Health and health care news

Tom Porter

The Portland City Council tonight is expected to repeal an ordinance that allows for a protest-free buffer zone around a downtown health clinic that provides abortions.

In response to a spate of overdoses this week, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills is warning people about a deadly mixture of heroin, caffeine and fentanyl, and also about a new mixture called acetyl fentanyl.  These appear to be causing users to overdose more quickly than if they were using straight heroin. 

Jennifer Mitchell

Registered nurses and union supporters picketed in the rain outside Mount Desert Island hospital today. They're upset over contract talks, which they say are stalled over issues of patient safety at the Bar Harbor hospital. Although hospital administrators say they've made their final offer, the nurses want more say over the hospital's technology and equipment. 

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) _ Maine has been increasing the level of Medicaid funding it devotes to home-based care for the disabled since a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave people a choice to live outside institutions.
    Data provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicates Maine was providing 50.9 percent of Medicaid long-term care money for disabled people living in home- or community-based settings in 2012. That compares to 43.8 percent in 2002.

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."