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Health and health care news

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Drug overdose deaths in Maine increased by 11 percent last year, with a total of 418 deaths, according to data released Thursday by the attorney general’s office.

“Forty-two more people died last year than the year before,” says Attorney General Janet Mills. “You know, every death is preventable. Every one of those deaths is more than a statistic.”

Mills says the higher number is driven by an increase in fentanyl-related deaths. Traffickers often lace heroin with the synthetic opioid because it's cheaper, but it’s 50-100 times more potent and far more lethal.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis In Maine Prompts Call For Better Testing

Feb 22, 2018
Wendy Watkins / Bangor Daily News

Since the 1950s, tuberculosis cases have declined dramatically in Maine and in the nation, thanks to a widespread public health campaign and the development of effective drug combinations to treat the disease and halt its spread.

It could soon be easier to get short-term health insurance under proposed rules released by the Trump administration Tuesday.

The administration says short-term plans are an affordable alternative to plans offered on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. But health care advocates say the cheaper options actually come at a cost.

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The LePage administration last year announced a plan to devote almost $5 million in state and federal money to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, especially for people who don't have health insurance. The "Opioid Health Home" program was supposed to be a big step forward in comprehensively dealing with the opioid crisis.

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After the school shooting in Florida this week, President Trump vowed to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” But the president's proposed budget would cut many programs that provide mental health services.

President Trump's proposed budget does include some increases in funding for mental health. However, Dale Hamilton of Community Health and Counseling Services, says the overall takeaway for Maine is that “President Trump's budget will not advance access to mental health services.”

Toby Talbot / Associated Press File

The maker of OxyContin, one of the most common prescription painkillers involved in opioid overdose deaths, will no longer market the drug to doctors, an announcement that came Saturday as Purdue Pharma faces a lawsuit for deceptive marketing brought by cities and counties across the U.S., including several in Maine.

The days of marketing opioids to U.S. doctors are over, according to a statement issued by Purdue Pharma. The drug manufacturer has also cut its sales force by more than half.

Mainers who lost health care coverage when health insurer Anthem stopped selling plans through the federal marketplace can still purchase a new plan.

State insurance bureau superintendent Eric Cioppa said such individuals qualify for a special enrollment period until March 1.

Anthem cited uncertainty and a shrinking customer base in its decision last year to stop selling plans it sold through the federal health care marketplace.

The flu season continues to hit both the United States and Maine hard. The number of flu cases in Maine specifically continues to climb, according to a Maine Center for Disease Control weekly surveillance report. Last week, 876 new cases were reported, compared to about 530 cases the week before.

Last week also saw five deaths due to the flu in Maine, bringing the total this season to 34.

Maine Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. August Valenti says if you develop the flu, it's important to take extra precautions.

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MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta is reducing services at its Diabetes and Nutrition Center. Hospital CEO Chuck Hays says the Center will no longer provide endocrinology services after the end of April because reimbursement rates don't cover the cost.

“You have to look at these services and say what can you still provide with those reductions and reimbursements to stay financially viable,” says Hays.

Hays also says the hospital has lost about $500 thousand per year since it added endocrinology services five years ago.

A Falmouth woman appeared before a senate committee Wednesday to talk about the high cost of treating rheumatoid arthritis.

80-year-old Patty Bernard told Maine Senator Susan Collins and other members of The Senate Aging Committee that she has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was 55. She says that when she had insurance through her employer, the copays for treatment were between $10 to $30. Then when she retired, Medicare told her the drug would cost her $3800 per month.

National Resurgence Of Syphilis Hitting Maine

Feb 7, 2018
Robert Sumpter / U.S. CDC/via Bangor Daily News

Syphilis, an infection once thought nearly eradicated in the United States, has come roaring back in recent years, including in Maine.

At the Portland Community Free Clinic, Medical Director Dr. Christina DeMatteo said the city has seen an uptick in syphilis and gonorrhea that parallels state and national trends.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is appealing a court decision against their lawsuit that would require MaineCare to cover abortions.

Filed on behalf of three providers, the lawsuit challenges the legality of the state insurance program that restricts coverage for abortions.

“Maine has an established public policy in statute that says women get to make decisions for themselves about whether to continue a pregnancy,” says Zach Heiden, legal director for the ACLU.

Officials at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor say a hard drive containing personal information on 660 patients has gone missing from the hospital after construction.

EMMC President Donna Russell-Cook says the drive doesn’t have the kind of information that could easily enable ID theft.

“There is no — I repeat no — Social Security number, no financial information, no addresses would be located in that. We understand the concern that patients may have but we feel the risk is very low,” she says.

Updated at 11:17 a.m. ET

Health care costs are "a hungry tapeworm on the American economy," Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett says, and now his firm is teaming up with Amazon and JPMorgan Chase to create a new company with the goal of providing high-quality health care for their U.S. employees at a lower cost.

Flu Season Escalates In Maine, As Deaths Rise And Outbreaks Reach Schools

Jan 25, 2018
Dr. F. A. Murphy / CDC/via Associated Press

Five adults in Maine died from the flu or related illnesses in the last week, bringing the number to 22 so far this season, compared to none at this time last year, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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