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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(3):617-618

HCFA Reports No Y2K Problems for Medicare, Announces Payment Updates

The first of the year brought no major Y2K-related computer problems to the Medicare program, according to the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). HCFA and its contractors report that Medicare claims are being processed normally. Additionally, HCFA also notes that no states have reported Y2K problems with their Medicaid payment systems. This good news is augmented by an increase in Medicare physician payment. Effective January 1, HCFA has made a 5.4 percent across-the-board update in the Medicare conversion factor, the dollar amount used to calculate Medicare fee schedule payments. This is the maximum possible increase permitted under current law and the largest across-the-board increase in Medicare payment since the resource-based relative value scale was implemented in 1992.

Physicians Report Their Opinions on the Scope of Practice

An article in the December 23, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reports that about one fourth of primary care physicians surveyed in 1996–1997 said their scope of practice was greater than it should be. The majority of those surveyed feel their scope of practice is about right. In a press conference in Washington, D.C. on December 22, Larry Green, M.D., director of the Center for Policy Studies in Family Practice and Primary Care of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), notes that “It is important to recognize that seven of 10 primary care physicians in this survey reported their scope of practice was right.” The study was conducted by the Center for Study of Health System Change in Washington, D.C.

Organizations Call for a National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

The AAFP has joined 34 health organizations in calling for Congress to declare March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The goal of such a month is to generate widespread awareness about colorectal cancer and to encourage people to learn about reducing their risk of the disease through a healthy lifestyle and regular screening. The effort was founded by the Cancer Research Foundation of America, and the AAFP joined as a collaborating partner in January. For more information on this effort, check the Web site:

Drug-Related Visits to Emergency Departments Remain Stable

The number of drug-related visits to emergency departments in the United States remained stable from 1997 to 1998, according to a report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 1998, there were an estimated 542,544 drug-related emergency department episodes and 982,856 drug mentions during these episodes. The report, “Year-End 1998 Emergency Department Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network,” focuses on comparisons between 1998 and the previous two years, as well as trends from 1991 to 1998 in substances that are most often mentioned during drug-related emergency department episodes. Cocaine-related visits increased 13 percent from 1996 to 1998, and marijuana/hashish mentions increased 43 percent during that time period. “Results of the 1998 DAWN report on drug-related emergency department visits shows an overall pattern of stability that began in 1994, but we need to pay close attention to the cocaine numbers, and the continued increase in marijuana-related emergency department visits provides a loud and clear message that marijuana is a powerful drug with serious consequences,” said SAMHSA Administrator Nelba Chavez, Ph.D. “These results give us reason to further intensify our efforts to prevent substance abuse in the first place and improve access to appropriate, cost effective treatment services before people end up in our nation's emergency departments.” More information can be obtained on the Web site of SAMHSA (

Helen Burstin, M.D., Is Named Director of AHRQ's Center for Primary Care Research

John M. Eisenberg, M.D., director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), formerly the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, announced the appointment of Helen Burstin, M.D., M.P.H., as director of AHRQ's Center for Primary Care Research (CPCR). As director of CPCR, Dr. Burstin will lead efforts to stimulate high-quality research in the primary care area, including evaluations of the quality, cost and effectiveness of primary care services and rural health care services and systems, and special populations. Dr. Burstin comes from the Brigham and Women's Hospital, where she served as director of Quality Measurement and had an active primary care practice. She is a graduate of the State University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse and the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.

NCI Expands Web Site for Cancer Survivors

In December, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) unveiled the newly designed Web site of the Office of Cancer Survivorship (OCS). An estimated 8.4 million persons are living with a history of cancer, and the NCI is stepping up efforts to study and support this growing population. Researchers, clinicians, cancer survivors and their families will be able to communicate directly with the staff of the OCS through the Web site. The Web site describes the role, mission and history of the OCS, established in 1996, and provides an overview of current research, funding and training opportunities, and new research directions. The OCS supports research on cancer survivors; educates health care professionals and cancer survivors about the needs of cancer survivors; and works closely with the cancer advocacy community. The site can be reached at NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences' homepage ( by clicking on the “Survivorship Research” button.

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