Health and health care news

Maine’s insurance co-op, Community Health Options, is dropping elective abortion coverage for 2017. Co-op officials say it’s a cost-saving measure, but abortion advocates are decrying the move as a step backwards for women’s health.

The backdrop to eliminating elective abortion coverage, says Community Health Options CEO Kevin Lewis, is that the co-op is still digging itself out of a $31 million deficit it accumulated last year.

When enrollment opens next week, shoppers in the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance marketplace will see, on average, double digit increases in premiums. Subsidies will help cushion the blow for most of the 84,000 Mainers who enrolled last year, but some consumers and small businesses will have to absorb the higher costs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its recommendations to protect against sleep-related infant deaths — babies should sleep in the same room as their parents for the first six months to one year of life, but on a separate surface.

Putting babies to bed in the same room as their parents can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, by as much as 50 percent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has denied an additional extension for the state of Maine to comply with the U.S. REAL ID law, which could have an effect on the use of Maine driver’s licenses and IDs for identification.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says he feels it’s important that people know additional restrictions are not going to happen overnight.

“We’re working with our federal partners, our congressional delegation and with the Legislature and the governor’s office to sort of understand what our next steps should be,” he says.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Augusta is moving forward with plans to build a new treatment facility for mentally ill patients who’ve committed crimes and no longer require hospital care as part of efforts to recoup federal certification for a neighboring psychiatric facility.

The Kennebec Journal reports the Planning Board on Tuesday approved plans to build the 21-bed rehabilitation facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

PORTLAND, Maine — Health insurance premiums in Maine are poised to reach unprecedented highs in 2017, and small businesses are expected to be hardest hit as a result.

The Maine Bureau of Insurance reported that state-approved increases for this upcoming year average double-digits for all individual health plans and about half of all small group plans.

The Portland Press Herald reports that because the increases vary significantly depending upon the provider, the most cost-effective plans for 2016 may not remain so next year.

BANGOR, Maine - The Maine Department of Marine Resources has closed the entire Downeast region's mud flats after routine tests detected the presence of a marine neurotoxin that could affect softshell clams, mussels and mahogany quahogs.

Jeff Nichols, a DMR spokesman, said the department has issued a recall on clams harvested between Sept. 25 through Sept. 30, and that the mudflat closure affects all shellfish harvesting areas between Otter Point on Mt. Desert Island east to the Canadian border.

Even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there are still some 44,000 adults and 16,000 children in Maine without any sort of insurance coverage. They were the focus of discussion for about 150 health care expansion advocates at the Augusta Civic Center Friday.

When a person without insurance gets sick, they can get treated at their local hospital emergency department regardless of their ability to pay. But advocates point out that it’s far less expensive to prevent a disease or illness than to treat it in a hospital.

A former state health director says Maine’s rising infant mortality rate is likely due to a lack of public health nurses.

Dr. Lani Graham told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee Thursday that there are more than 40 positions, but at most, 25-30 are filled. Graham says that’s not enough to do home visits to new mothers and babies to assess and support their health.

“We used to have the lowest infant mortality in the country, and we now have 13th highest from the worst,” she says.

An organization that works with southern Maine’s refugee and immigrant communities is getting $300,000 to work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The Immigration Resource Center of Maine in Lewiston, formerly called United Somali Women of Maine, will use the grant from the federal Office on Violence Against Women to maintain and expand its culturally specific sexual assault services for East African sex assault victims living in Southern Maine.

Patty Wight / MPBN

For some, the debate over whether to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine hangs on concerns related to criminal justice or economics. But for others, the central issue is public health.

Patty Wight / MPBN/file

PORTLAND, Maine - For the first time, the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  

Brian Denger, of Biddeford, says he's ecstatic that the drug eteplirsen might soon be available for his 22-year-old son, Patrick, who has the rare genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness.


PORTLAND, Maine - For this campaign season, MPBN is reuniting Sam Surprise and Brenda Garrand for their takes on campaign advertising.  Surprise heads Surprise Advertising, Garrand is president of Garrand & Company.  Maine hasn't yet been overrun by television advertising so far, but as Surprise points out, the fight for the 2nd Congressional District seat between Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin and Democratic challenger Emily Cain is underway over the air.

Patty Wight / MPBN

A recent study shows that medical errors are likely the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The findings by researchers at Johns Hopkins were controversial, but one of the takeaways has been that the health care system should take lessons from aviation.

A federal judge has dismissed federal claims by nurse Kaci Hickox that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and state health officials violated her constitutional rights when they quarantined her after she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa in 2014.

But one of Hickox’s attorneys, Steve Hyman, says two state claims in the lawsuit can move forward for false imprisonment and defamation.

“Against Gov. Christie, who called her sick and that she was ill and therefore was properly detained, when in fact she was not ill,” he says.