Health and health care news

Patty Wight / Maine Public

Most Americans don’t get enough exercise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And those over the age of 65 are the least likely to get with the program.

Mike Groll / Associated Press

Nationally, about 14 percent of the population is considered to be “food insecure,” and the numbers are on the decline. But not so in Maine, where nearly 16 percent of households lack reliable access to food.

A new study commissioned by the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative and Good Shepherd Food Bank finds that recent policy changes have deepened hunger in the state.

Elton Thornhill say he’s always hungry.

“Yesterday, I only had pasta and sauce, That was it,” he says. “One big meal, just some pasta and sauce. That was it.”

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine is demanding answers from Kaleo Pharmaceuticals on why the company has drastically hiked the price of naloxone, the life-saving medication used to treat opioid overdoses.

King signed on to a letter Wednesday with more than 30 Democratic and independent Senate colleagues, asking Kaleo why the price of its naloxone injector has soared from about $700 dollars in 2014 to its current cost of about $4,500.

In the letter, lawmakers say the hike “threatens to price-out families and communities that depend on naloxone to save lives.”

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine says the federal government needs to do more to help states battle the increasing opioid crisis, which shows no signs of letting up.

He says one of the challenges is identifying what prevention strategies work in reducing opioid addiction.

“The states are the laboratories of democracy for sure, but nobody reads anybody else’s lab reports. We are all trying to reinvent the wheel across the country. I think this is a role the federal government can play,” King says.

AUGUSTA, Maine - The flu is making its way throughout Maine, but it's not too late to get vaccinated.
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed cases of influenza in the state's sixteen counties.
The CDC has followed up on seven outbreaks this flu season.
But there's good news: State Epidemiologist Siiri Bennett says the vaccine appears to be a good match to all strains this year.

In 2016 the number of drug overdose deaths in Maine increased by 39 percent to a record high estimate of 378, pending final toxicology tests. That’s now more than one a day.

Attorney General Janet Mills says the state needs to do more to address the drug epidemic that continues to set records.

“More treatment, more public education. Continuing interdiction and arrests and reducing the flow of prescription drugs in our communities,” she says.

Sheryl Lee could be in Danger of Losing Access to Mental Health Care
Patty Wight/Maine Public

Some state-funded Medicaid services that support thousands of people with severe mental illness could disappear if proposed rate cuts are approved. Providers who help people say they can’t absorb a proposed 25% reduction in reimbursement rates. Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services says the rates aren’t final, but at least one provider is already cutting back.

Everyday tasks like going to the grocery store, can feel insurmountable for 63-year-old Sheryl Lee. She has bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD.

Ed Morin / Maine Public

The oldest among us are getting older. According to the 2010 Census, nearly 2 million people were age 90 or above, and that number is expected to quadruple by 2050. It’s among the fastest growing segments of the population.

PORTLAND, Maine — Health care funding for HIV positive patients at a city-run clinic in Portland, Maine, has been transferred to a private nonprofit, but fewer than half of the clinic’s patients have followed the funding to the new provider.

The Portland Press Herald reports the city last month transferred a $356,000 federal grant to nonprofit Greater Portland Health. The grant covered the cost of care for 229 patients who were treated at the clinic.

A lawsuit alleging that Mercy Hospital in Portland and its billing companies collected millions of dollar from Medicare through a number of fraudulent billing schemes, such as double billing, can move forward now that a federal judge has refused to dismiss most of the counts in the suit.

The complaint was filed in April 2014 by Jennifer Worthy, Mercy’s former patient accounts manager, who also claims in the suit that she was the victim of retaliation because of her efforts to the stop the unlawful billing practices.

Blue Hill Memorial Hospital has set up a new prescription drug drop box for Hancock County in an effort to prevent substance abuse.

The secure drop box in the Sussman Medical Office Building is designed to allow community members to safety dispose of medications that are expired, unwanted or no longer needed. Many Mainers are able to dispose of old meds at police stations and sheriff’s offices across the state.

Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press

The secret behind Gov. Paul LePage’s weight loss is out. He recently revealed on local radio talk shows that both he and his wife Ann underwent bariatric surgery in order to lose weight.

An article in Wednesday’s Twin City Times by LePage Director of Communications Peter Steele says the LePages had a procedure called a sleeve gastrectomy.

A shortage of nurses in Maine may soon improve, thanks to a new grant to St. Joseph’s College.

The Harold Alfond Foundation announced Tuesday that it’s awarding a $1.5 million challenge grant to St. Joseph’s to expand its nursing program, which could position the school as the pipeline the state needs for one of its fastest growing industries.

Nurses account for more than 14,000 jobs in Maine and make an average wage of $31 an hour. It’s a good career, says Labor Department Commissioner Jeanne Paquette, and there’s plenty of room for more to join the field.

Patty Wight / Maine Public

Hospitals, especially rural ones, are bracing for a possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act. If the 80,000 Mainers who have insurance through the marketplace lose coverage, hospitals say they will have to absorb more costs from patients who can’t afford care.

More than 19,000 Mainers will lose access to mental health and drug treatment if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, according to researchers at Harvard and New York University.

At a time when drug overdose deaths are at an all time high in Maine, health care advocates say the push by Republicans in Congress to repeal the ACA with no clear replacement will make the problem even worse.