BANGOR (AP) – A state task force is looking into why the use of hospital emergency rooms in Maine is significantly higher than the national average.

A report is expected by the end of the year.

Maine’s rate of emergency department use increased by nearly 20 percent between 1999 and 2005. That is 27 percent above the national average in 1999 and is now 43 percent higher than the national average.

Trish Riley, top health policy aide to Governor John Baldacci, said unnecessary use of emergency room services drives up health care spending in Maine.

Meanwhile, she said, a number of hospitals are seeking approval to expand their emergency departments.

The Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Maine will do the study, which is intended to identify problems within the health care system that drive people to seek routine medical care in emergency departments.

“We don’t know who’s really there or why they’re there,” Riley said.

The estimated price tag of $48,300 may be paid in part by the Maine Health Access Foundation, a funding organization established with the proceeds of the 1999 sale of Maine’s nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield programs.

Riley said a report will be ready by December for presentation to the incoming Legislature.

“The fact that people use EDs when they could get care somewhere else is a really complicated question,” said one task force member, Dr. Erik Steele, chief medical officer for Eastern Maine Healthcare System.

Steele said hospitals commonly provide emergency department care to nonemergency patients.

Children with ear infections, adults with symptoms of bronchitis and seniors with chronic joint pain often await care day or night, he said.

Information from: Bangor Daily News,

AP-ES-07-17-08 1104EDT

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