Health and health care news

Child Abuse

Jun 25, 2014

  State officials are reporting a dramatic increase in child abuse cases in Maine. Confirmed cases of the physical abuse of children in Maine climbed by 58 percent over the past two years, following a decline over the previous two decades. Some of the recent spike might have to do with stronger reporting, but drug problems and a struggling economy have also been identified as factors.

Lung Cancer

Jun 24, 2014

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, and until recently, there was no good method of detecting the disease early enough to prevent people from dying of the disease. But a large national study has found that using a form of a CAT scan to screen for lung cancer can reduce mortality in current and former smokers — the two groups at highest risk for lung cancer. But the disease doesn't just affect smokers. Learn more about this type of cancer, including the risk factors, such as smoking, secondhand smoke, lack of exercise and environmental factors.

This fall, Medicare will penalize hospitals with the worst rates of patient injury. Two Maine hospitals are on the preliminary list.

PORTLAND, Maine — St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and Maine Medical Center in Portland may face federal penalties for high rates of complications and infections.

The Sun Journal reports the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has placed the two hospitals on a preliminary list of 761 hospitals that could be penalized. Some of the hospitals on the list could avoid penalties after the agency does more analysis.

The Portland Press Herald is releasing poll results Monday that show Maine is divided over welfare. The survey, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, found 46 percent of those asked believe most people need state welfare benefits, but 41 percent said most people don't need the benefits they get. Forty-six percent of those polled also said giving people welfare benefits does more harm than good; 43 percent said the reverse.

Patty Wight

No one likes paying medical bills, much less being over-billed.  About five years ago, the federal government created a program to guard against overpayments in Medicare.  It's called the Recovery Audit Contractor - or RAC - program. So far, it's identified about $5 billion in overpayments.  But many hospitals say that's little return for the enormous administrative cost that's required to comply, and that the program does nothing to improve patient care.  Patty Wight reports on what the RAC program means for Maine hospitals.

Tom Porter

A new national scorecard released today by the AARP and other groups looks at how different states are doing when it comes to providing the long-term care needs of older residents.  The study - called "Raising Expectations" - is an updated version of an original scorecard produced three years ago. Maine ranks 10th overall, an impressive showing - but no reason to be complacent, warns AARP state Director Lori Parham, who spoke with Maine Things Considered host Tom Porter. 

A Portland teenager who died in February after having some wisdom teeth extracted was killed by a flesh-eating bacteria.

That's according the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which released its report on the death of Benjamin LaMontagne to the Portland Press Herald.

Maine is slipping in the cost and availability of so-called "long-term" health care. That according to the seniors group AARP.

It says Maine's ranking went from 8th in 2011 to 10th in its latest survey. AARP's Susan Reinhardt says the survey is meant to spur action on what will be a growing need in a nation with a growing percentage of older residents.

Patty Wight

More than 3 million people in the U.S. have Hepatitis C, a difficult-to-treat infection that can cause serious liver disease and death.  When a drug called Sovaldi was released late last year to treat Hepatitis C, it soon made headlines for its 90 percent success rate - and for its cost: $1,000 a pill.  The price tag has some states putting treatment on hold, and insurance companies are reeling.  Patty Wight reports on the impact of Sovaldi in Maine, as well as the questions it raises about the cost and benefits of certain drug regimens.

In announcing lower crime rates yesterday, Gov. Paul LePage made it clear the improvements were not nearly enough. He told reporters Maine still has a major problem with illegal drug smuggling.

"Twelve-year-olds are being addicted to heroin in our state," LePage said. "Eighteen-, 19-, 20-year-olds are being found dead of overdoses."

AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers who signed up for health care coverage on the federally-run exchange are paying an average of $99 per month in premiums.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures released Wednesday show that 89 percent of Mainers who signed up on the exchange selected plans that the federal government helps pay for with tax credits.

The department said that the average monthly premium in Maine before credits were taken into account was $443 and fell 78 percent with the subsidy.

Lyme disease represents a challenging and growing threat to public health across the Northeast. And testing for this tick-borne ailment has become a big business. Some 3.4 million tests are carried out each year, some of them costing as much as $1,000, and new testing labs are popping up across the country. But according to a months-long study by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, many patients are being misdiagnosed - and it's all because of a loophole in the federal regulations.

Wikimedia Commons

Primary care doctors are considered the backbone of our health care system. But in many parts of Maine — especially in rural counties — there's a serious shortage of primary care doctors. And this shortage is only expected to get worse over time as more and more practicing physicians reach retirement age. Increasingly, young doctors are migrating to urban areas to practice. But the news isn't all bad.

WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) _ New England governors are calling for stronger cross-border monitoring of prescription drugs as part of a regional strategy for fighting opioid abuse.
    Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick convened the meeting Tuesday at Brandeis University in Waltham.
    Govs. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island also attended. Maine Gov. Paul LePage was unable to attend.