Calls for prior authorization reform
Most patients in the study (71%) had private insurance. But the findings also have implications for Medicare, Dr. Wallace said, as recent federal policies have expanded Medicare Advantage plans’ authority to use prior authorization in conjunction with step therapy for medications administered under Part B. Step therapy favors primary use of what insurers deem the most cost-effective therapies.
The ACR is one of almost 370 physician, patient, and health care organizations that are urging Congress to pass a bipartisan bill aimed at streamlining and standardizing prior authorization under the Medicare Advantage program. The legislation –– was introduced by Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Roger Marshall, MD (R-Kan.), and Ami Bera, MD (D-Calif.).
The bill calls for the creation of an electronic prior authorization program and a “real-time process for items and services that are routinely approved,” as well as greater Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services oversight on how Medicare Advantage plans use prior authorization. Plans would be required to report to the CMS on the extent of their use of prior authorization and the rate of approvals or denials. They would also be held accountable for making timely prior authorization determinations and providing rationales for denials, according to a letter to Congress cosigned by the ACR.
In a press release about the legislation,, president of the ACR, said that “the unregulated use of prior authorization has devolved into a time-consuming and obstructive process that often stalls or outright revokes patient access to medically necessary therapies.” She added that “many health care plans now use prior authorization indiscriminately.”
Cathryn Donaldson, director of communications for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said in an email that prior authorization is used for less than 15% of covered services, and that, along with step therapy, it “helps ensure that patients receive care that is safe, effective, and necessary.” AHIP “knows that prior authorization can be improved,” she said, and is committed to streamlining the process.
A demonstration project on the automation of various parts of prior authorization is being coordinated with health information technology companies, plans, and providers, she noted.
The federal legislation is based at least partly on a consensus statement drafted by AHIP, the American Medical Association, and four other organizations representing hospitals, medical groups, and health plans on ways to improve the prior authorization process. Among the items mentioned in the statement is that “regular review” of services subject to prior authorization could help identify therapies that “no longer warrant” prior authorization because of low denial rates.
Outside of Medicare Advantage, the AMA is aware of at least 85 bills being introduced in states this year that address utilization management in commercial plans. Nearly all these bills attempt to reform prior authorization programs in some way, according to R. J. Mills, media relations coordinator for the AMA.
Rheumatologic patients hard hit
Off-label medication use was the most common reason (82%) for a prior authorization denial in the Massachusetts General study, even though 78% of the patients for whom infusible medications were prescribed had a condition with no Food and Drug Administration–approved treatment. Having such a condition was associated with 120% or 190% higher odds of having a denial in unadjusted and adjusted (for age and sex) analyses, Dr. Wallace and colleagues reported.