Health and health care news

In announcing lower crime rates yesterday, Gov. Paul LePage made it clear the improvements were not nearly enough. He told reporters Maine still has a major problem with illegal drug smuggling.

"Twelve-year-olds are being addicted to heroin in our state," LePage said. "Eighteen-, 19-, 20-year-olds are being found dead of overdoses."

AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers who signed up for health care coverage on the federally-run exchange are paying an average of $99 per month in premiums.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures released Wednesday show that 89 percent of Mainers who signed up on the exchange selected plans that the federal government helps pay for with tax credits.

The department said that the average monthly premium in Maine before credits were taken into account was $443 and fell 78 percent with the subsidy.

Lyme disease represents a challenging and growing threat to public health across the Northeast. And testing for this tick-borne ailment has become a big business. Some 3.4 million tests are carried out each year, some of them costing as much as $1,000, and new testing labs are popping up across the country. But according to a months-long study by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, many patients are being misdiagnosed - and it's all because of a loophole in the federal regulations.

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Primary care doctors are considered the backbone of our health care system. But in many parts of Maine — especially in rural counties — there's a serious shortage of primary care doctors. And this shortage is only expected to get worse over time as more and more practicing physicians reach retirement age. Increasingly, young doctors are migrating to urban areas to practice. But the news isn't all bad.

WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) _ New England governors are calling for stronger cross-border monitoring of prescription drugs as part of a regional strategy for fighting opioid abuse.
    Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick convened the meeting Tuesday at Brandeis University in Waltham.
    Govs. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island also attended. Maine Gov. Paul LePage was unable to attend.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ The Maine Supreme Court has rejected a Blue Hill farmer's challenge of regulations requiring him to spend thousands of dollars to be licensed to sell raw milk at his farm stand.
    Farmer Dan Brown wanted to continue selling milk the way he had for years based on his understanding from state officials that he didn't need a license. The state later reversed its position and Brown was issued a civil summons in 2011 for selling milk without state licenses.

Maine has had a prescription drug monitoring program since 2003.  Designed to prevent and detect prescription drug diversion, it's an electronic database of all transactions involving controlled substances. In other words, it's a way for pharmacists and physicians to keep track of the types and quantities of pills that are being prescribed.  But the program is voluntary. And with drug overdoes deaths climbing, Maine's attorney general says it's time to beef up the program and its mission.

There's been an alarming spike in the number of child abuse cases in Maine. Data provided by the state Department of Health and Human Services, in response to a request by the Maine Sunday Telegram, show a 58 percent increase in confirmed cases of physical abuse of children between 2011 and 2013 - considerably higher than the national average. The most recently available national data show a rise of just 5 percent from 2011 to 2012.

LEWISTON, Maine — Police are investigating a spate of heroin overdoses in Lewiston.

Police say a 31-year-old woman was rushed to the hospital Friday morning after overdosing.

The Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal reports that an ambulance crew administered the drug Narcan, used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. The woman is expected to fully recover.

Police are investigating to determine if the drug came from the same source linked to four heroin overdoses earlier in the week.

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The state of Vermont is the target of a federal lawsuit over its newly-enacted law requiring food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically-modified organisms, or GMO's. Four trade associations filed the suit on Thursday, alleging that Vermont has overstepped its powers. And the outcome of the case is expected to have impacts well beyond the borders of the Green Mountain State.

When a hospital increases the quality of its care, patients are healthier and need fewer services. While that's good for patients, hospitals lose money. It's created a conundrum for hospitals such as Franklin Memorial in Farmington, which serves as the financial underpinning of the community's entire health network. Patty Wight brings us the second of two reports on how the hospital is working to keep in line with expectations under the Affordable Care Act and still remain financially afloat.

Patty Wight / MPBN

Under the Affordable Care Act, the quality of health care you receive is supposed to improve. Hospitals, for example, are expected to reduce readmissions, cut down on unnecessary tests. But these are the kinds of services that have been the bread and butter of hospitals for years. Take them away, and the hospital loses money. So the challenge for hospitals is how to increase quality and still stay in business. Patty Wight visited one hospital in western Maine that's grappling with that task, and tonight she has the first of two reports on what she found out.

The state Department of Health and Human Services says it's moving forward with efforts to remove illegal immigrants from the state's General Assistance Program, and has informed cities and towns that, beginning immediately, the state will no longer be reimbursing them for illegal immigrants as part of municipal general assistance programs.

Last month's mass shooting near a California college campus has revitalized Congress' efforts to reform the country's mental health system. One bill from 2013 that's getting renewed attention is the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Among other things, the law would loosen patient privacy rules to give family members more of a say in the care of loved ones with mental illness. But mental health advocates in Maine oppose the idea of chipping away at patient rights.

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) _ The VA Maine Health Care System fared better than many other facilities in a system-wide audit, but hundreds of veterans still had to wait more than a month for appointments.

A May 14 audit found that 99 percent of doctor visits took place in 30 days or less in Maine. But 664 veterans had to wait more than a month. It also showed that new patients waited 36 days on average, and six had to wait 120 days or more.

All told, 47,698 appointments were scheduled.