Health and health care news

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.

Congress is back at work this week after taking most of the summer off. House and Senate leaders say with only this month planned for session, they will not complete action on the dozen funding bills that make up the federal budget. That could set off a mad scramble to fund a few new high-priority programs.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Health officials in Maine say the state’s opioid epidemic has likely been a major contributor to a recent rise in reported hepatitis B cases.

The Portland Press Herald reports the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 29 cases of acute hepatitis B this year through Sept. 1. In a typical year, Maine has fewer than 10 cases.

The state has a rate of 2.2 hepatitis B cases per 100,000 residents so far in 2016. That figure is more than twice the national average for 2014, the latest data available.

PORTLAND, Maine - Two schools in Yarmouth have elevated lead levels.  That's according to voluntary tests performed by the school district in two of its older buildings.

Yarmouth Superintendent Andrew Dolloff says it's likely those lead levels are the result of corrosion in faucets. He says the district is already taking action to make sure students aren't exposed more than they already have been.

PORTLAND, Maine — About a third of Maine's adult population is obese, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - the capper to a long-term rise in obesity here and in the nation. Maine has the highest adult obesity rate in the New England.

And of 43 states studied, Maine has the 19th highest rate of obesity among high school students. Dora Mills, a health expert at the University of New England, attributes some of that to food insecurity among low-income Maine households.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine wants the company that manufactures EpiPens to explain why the price has jumped 480 percent in recent years.

Collins, chair of the Senate Aging Committee, along with ranking member Claire McCaskill, sent a letter to the CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan saying they’re concerned the lifesaving EpiPen may now be out of reach for some individuals. The cost for a two-pack has risen from about $100 in 2008 to a current price of $600.

The number of drug overdose deaths in Maine continued to rise in the first six months of this year.

Records from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner identified 189 drug deaths, up from 126 in the first six months of 2015.

“That increase is largely due to fentanyl, fentanyl analogues as well as heroin,” says Marcella Sorg, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Maine who analyzes death records for the attorney general’s office.

The Maine Families program operates in every county in Maine and serves about 2,300 families a year, at a cost of about $9 million a year in state and federal money. It’s a home visiting program that helps new parents adjust, make their homes safer and access resources.

Exactly who gets to do the work of Maine Families, and get paid for it, is, by law, open to competitive bidding. But in a story Thursday in the Bangor Daily News, reporter Erin Rhoda says that’s not happening, and it’s not clear why.