AGA Policy & Advocacy

Reforming prior authorization remains AGA’s top policy priority


Reforming prior authorization polices to reduce red tape for physicians and help patients get the care they need in a timely manner is the AGA’s number one policy priority as it impacts every gastroenterologist regardless of practice setting. We have seen an increase in prior authorization policies from every major insurer. The most recent prior authorization program to impact gastroenterologists was announced by UnitedHealthcare (UHC) in March for implementation on June 1, 2023 and will require prior authorization for most colonoscopy and upper GI endoscopy procedures with the exception of screening colonoscopy.1 This policy is a step back at a time when payers should be developing innovative policies in collaboration with health care providers to improve patient care.

UHC’s GI prior authorization policy

AGA met with UHC in March to discuss their plan to require prior authorization for most GI endoscopy procedures. We stressed how this change will cause care delays for high-risk individuals, deter patients from undergoing medically recommended procedures, exacerbate existing sociodemographic disparities in care and outcomes, and add unnecessary paperwork burden to physicians who have mounting rates of burnout.

Linda Lee, MD, medical director of endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, recently spoke of the impact this policy will have on gastroenterologists and their patients. “We all know that requiring prior authorizations really only leads to more bureaucracy within the insurance company, as well as within each health care provider’s practice, because we need people to fill out these prior authorization forms, waste time trying to get through to their 1-800 number to speak with someone who has no clinical knowledge, then be told we need to speak with someone else who actually does have some medical knowledge about why these procedures are necessary.”

However, Dr. Lee stressed that “most importantly, this will lead to poorer patient care with delays in care as we are struggling to wade through the morass of prior authorization while patients are bleeding, not able to swallow, vomiting, and more while waiting for their insurance company to approve their potentially life-saving procedures.”

We were particularly troubled that UHC announced this policy during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, given the need to screen more Americans for colorectal cancer which remains the nation’s number two cancer killer. The UHC program would require a PA on surveillance colonoscopy for those patients who have previously had polyps removed and are at a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer.

“We know that patients with high-risk adenomas or advanced sessile serrated lesions have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and timely access to the necessary surveillance colonoscopy is critical,” said David Lieberman, MD, past president of the AGA and chair of the AGA Executive Committee on the Screening Continuum.

AGA plans to meet with UHC again to ask them to reconsider this policy, but we need your advocacy now to tell United how this will impact you and your patients.

How you can help stop UHC’s prior authorization program

Write to UHC: Tell UHC how this policy would impact you and your patients. Contact their CEO using our customizable letter2 that outlines the impact of United’s GI endoscopy prior authorization program on gastroenterologists and their patients available on the AGA Advocacy Action Center.

Use social media: Tag United (@UHC) on Twitter and tell them how this burdensome program will cause delays for high-risk individuals, deter patients from seeking treatment, and exacerbate existing disparities in care, all while saddling physicians with even more paperwork. Once you’ve tweeted, tag your colleagues and encourage them to get involved.


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