Health and health care news

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.

Patty Wight / MPBN

We’ve all heard the flossing lecture. Once a day, we’re supposed to slide a waxy string between our teeth to remove food and bacteria. It’s a practice that dentists and the federal government have recommended for decades.

The state’s largest insurer of individual health plans is suing the federal government for over $20 million in owed payments.

The lawsuit, by Maine Community Health Options, or MCHO, marks the latest development in the ongoing struggle of Obamacare health co-ops, many of which have already shuttered because of financial woes.

It has been a rough year for MCHO. The nonprofit was one of nearly two dozen health care co-ops setup nationwide in 2014 and funded through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, with over $2 billion in federal grants.

A.J. Higgins / MPBN

A Bangor methadone clinic’s plan to expand treatment is meeting resistance from some members of the city council and local residents.

Critics say Bangor is doing more than its fair share by offering treatment to 1,500 patients at three methadone clinics in the city, but substance abuse counselors say Bangor should be doing more to address addiction — not less.

Tuesday night the Saco planning board voted in support of a proposed ordinance that would require marijuana caregivers who grow outside their residences to operate within one of the city’s industrial zones.

That was a relief for Darrell Gudroe, board director of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, who initially thought the ordinance sought to restrict caregivers who grow in their homes.

“We’re in favor of regulation, we’re just not in favor of overregulation,” he says.

Tuesday night the city of Saco is holding a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would put restrictions on where commercial medical marijuana caregivers can be located.

The ordinance would require all new commercial medical marijuana caregivers to operate their business in one of Saco’s industrial zones as opposed to out of their residences.

Susan Sharon / MPBN

A year ago this week a Chinese investment company called a news conference to announce big plans to convert a former Auburn shoe factory into a 5-star medical tourism facility.

Five states have been running a welfare fraud prevention pilot program that supporters say could save taxpayers across the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Two members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation say they would like to the system used nationwide.

Tom Porter / MPBN file

Maine’s two largest hospitals have received two out of five stars under Medicare’s new rating system for quality.