AUGUSTA – A new update of the state health plan points to a variety of factors complicating the effort to make Maine the nation’s healthiest state.
According to the Advisory Council on Health System Development, which is charged with guiding the governor in developing and issuing a plan every two years, “Maine data shows that we spend more on health care and have lower health outcomes when compared with most national data.”
Specifically, the new report says New England’s health care spending is higher than the national average and that Maine’s per capita health care spending is the second-highest in the nation.
The report also says Maine exceeds the national average in the available supply of health care, with 1.5 times the number of hospital-based MRIs as the U.S. average.
Maine also has more physicians, nurses and rural clinics per 100,000 people than the U.S. average, the report says, “although there are areas of significant shortages and an aging work force that portends future problems.”
Meanwhile, according to the authors, nearly 37 percent, or $1.2 billion, of Maine’s increase in health spending from 1998 to 2005 is attributable to chronic illnesses that are often preventable: cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes.
“Despite recent improvements, Maine has a higher average rate of deaths per 100,000 in cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease than the US average,” the report says. “So while we have accomplished much in the first biennium, there remains a significant gap between where we are as a state and where we want to be.”
Looking forward, the report suggests in part assessing adult and childhood immunization needs as part of strengthening a system of local health officers and developing regional health plans.
It also calls for investigating the costs and causes of Maine’s high use of hospital emergency departments.
“This is an action plan that makes the health system more affordable for all Mainers,” Trish Riley, director of the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, said in a statement.