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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana hospitals are calling on Congress to extend the payback deadline for a loan given during the pandemic.

If this doesn’t happen soon some hospitals, especially in rural areas, may close.

Jasper County resident Samantha Misch said if she didn’t have a hospital near her home, she would have to go about an hour away to get medical help in an emergency.

“Every minute counts,” said Misch. “So, time would not be on your side if you have to travel to other counties for hospital care.”

However, keeping rural hospitals from closing is not just about time and convenience. These small communities depend on their hospitals for so much more.

“Most of our hospitals, especially in rural communities, are the largest employer,” said State Rep. Ann Vermilion. “They’re a huge economic vibrancy in their community.”

Rep. Vermilion has been in the rural healthcare industry for more than 15 years. Now, she’s seeing Indiana hospitals struggle more than ever during a global pandemic. Congress meant to help early-on when it offered what’s known as the MAAPP loan. But the repayment process starts 120 days from receiving the money and if hospitals don’t return it, the federal government withholds Medicare reimbursements.

“it’s just not doable, it’s just not,” explained Vermilion. “It could really put a lot of hospitals in some financial stress.”

Vermilion is comforted by a proposal passed this week in the United States House of Representatives that gives a one-year repayment extension, among other things.

“I’m encouraged and hope that it can move over to the Senate and get passed,” said Vermilion.

“The legislators need to move on this,” added Misch. “It’s not just important for our healthcare but for the economic part of our county.”

The Senate is expected to vote on this next week.

Republican Indiana U.S. Sen. Todd Young said, “Hospitals and our medical professionals have been nothing short of heroic during this pandemic. Senator Young supports extending the MAAPP repayment timeline to ensure the long-term sustainability of a hospital system that serves more than 6 million Hoosiers.”

We have yet to hear back from Indiana’s other Republican Sen. Mike Braun’s office on this topic.