Health and health care news

The flu season continues to hit both the United States and Maine hard. The number of flu cases in Maine specifically continues to climb, according to a Maine Center for Disease Control weekly surveillance report. Last week, 876 new cases were reported, compared to about 530 cases the week before.

Last week also saw five deaths due to the flu in Maine, bringing the total this season to 34.

Maine Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. August Valenti says if you develop the flu, it's important to take extra precautions.

Jill Brown / Flickr

MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta is reducing services at its Diabetes and Nutrition Center. Hospital CEO Chuck Hays says the Center will no longer provide endocrinology services after the end of April because reimbursement rates don't cover the cost.

“You have to look at these services and say what can you still provide with those reductions and reimbursements to stay financially viable,” says Hays.

Hays also says the hospital has lost about $500 thousand per year since it added endocrinology services five years ago.

A Falmouth woman appeared before a senate committee Wednesday to talk about the high cost of treating rheumatoid arthritis.

80-year-old Patty Bernard told Maine Senator Susan Collins and other members of The Senate Aging Committee that she has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was 55. She says that when she had insurance through her employer, the copays for treatment were between $10 to $30. Then when she retired, Medicare told her the drug would cost her $3800 per month.

National Resurgence Of Syphilis Hitting Maine

Feb 7, 2018
Robert Sumpter / U.S. CDC/via Bangor Daily News

Syphilis, an infection once thought nearly eradicated in the United States, has come roaring back in recent years, including in Maine.

At the Portland Community Free Clinic, Medical Director Dr. Christina DeMatteo said the city has seen an uptick in syphilis and gonorrhea that parallels state and national trends.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is appealing a court decision against their lawsuit that would require MaineCare to cover abortions.

Filed on behalf of three providers, the lawsuit challenges the legality of the state insurance program that restricts coverage for abortions.

“Maine has an established public policy in statute that says women get to make decisions for themselves about whether to continue a pregnancy,” says Zach Heiden, legal director for the ACLU.

Officials at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor say a hard drive containing personal information on 660 patients has gone missing from the hospital after construction.

EMMC President Donna Russell-Cook says the drive doesn’t have the kind of information that could easily enable ID theft.

“There is no — I repeat no — Social Security number, no financial information, no addresses would be located in that. We understand the concern that patients may have but we feel the risk is very low,” she says.

Updated at 11:17 a.m. ET

Health care costs are "a hungry tapeworm on the American economy," Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett says, and now his firm is teaming up with Amazon and JPMorgan Chase to create a new company with the goal of providing high-quality health care for their U.S. employees at a lower cost.

Flu Season Escalates In Maine, As Deaths Rise And Outbreaks Reach Schools

Jan 25, 2018
Dr. F. A. Murphy / CDC/via Associated Press

Five adults in Maine died from the flu or related illnesses in the last week, bringing the number to 22 so far this season, compared to none at this time last year, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pat Wellenbach / Associated Press/file

Twenty-one Mainers have died so far this season from the flu. That's according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Maine CDC epidemiologist Sara Robinson says that number is likely a little low. She says while 21 people had the flu listed as the cause of death on their death certificates, many more people die from other causes, as a result of having it.

PORTLAND, Maine - Widespread influenza across Maine has prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to alter some traditions to keep parishioners healthy.
The diocese announced Thursday that it's suspending the sharing of consecrated wine during communion and holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The diocese is also discouraging parishioners from shaking hands while greeting each other during the passing of the peace.

Maine ACA Insurer Sues U.S. Government For $5.7 Million

Jan 12, 2018
Gabor Degre / Bangor Daily News/file

A Lewiston-based health insurance cooperative is suing the U.S. government to recoup subsidies it claims it is owed under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it’s committed to supporting states that want to require Medicaid recipients to work.

Maine is one of 10 states that’s seeking federal permission to do that. Gov. Paul LePage and other Republicans say the policy would help lift people out of poverty. But advocates for Medicaid recipients say implementing a work requirement would not only harm the people Medicaid is intended to help, it would also be illegal.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine officials say the number of drug-affected babies born in the state declined last year for the first time in more than a decade.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services says the number fell to 952 in 2017. The number had climbed from 165 in 2005 to 1,024 in 2016. At the trend's peak, about 8 percent of all babies born in the state were drug-affected.

This week, the Trump administration released proposed rules that would make it easier for small businesses and the self-employed to band together to buy association health plans.

Supporters say the plans will provide more affordable coverage. But critics say any savings these plans might offer would come at a cost: namely, skimpy coverage and a weaker individual market.

The proposed new rules are aimed at association health plans — plans in which small businesses in the same industry group together to buy insurance coverage and get cheaper rates.

LePage Can Expect A Lawsuit If He Blocks Medicaid Expansion

Jan 5, 2018
In this Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, file photo, supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrate their victory, in Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press

Much has been written and said about last year’s referendum to expand Maine’s Medicaid program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and the funding battle that’s brewing this year in the Legislature.

But according to Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, there will be no battle.