Feature

Prior authorizations for infusibles cause delays, toxicities


 

FROM ARTHRITIS CARE & RESEARCH

Rheumatologist Zachary S. Wallace, MD, knew just how prior authorization requirements were impacting his staff time and work flow when he embarked on a study several years ago. Managing authorizations for infusible medications alone was about to become a full-time job for one of the administrative assistants in the rheumatology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Zachary S. Wallace

His research questions concerned patients. “There’s a lot of talk about how much onus prior authorization requirements put on providers and the practice,” Dr. Wallace said. ”I was interested in understanding what impact [these requirements] have on patients themselves.”

Dr. Wallace led a review of the EHRs of 225 patients for whom an infusible medication such as rituximab and infliximab was ordered by 1 of the 16 physicians in the rheumatology unit between July 2016 and June 2018. The findings – that patients who needed prior authorizations for infusible medications had a significantly longer time to treatment initiation and higher prednisone-equivalent glucocorticoid exposure – were reported online in Arthritis Care & Research.

Among patients whose authorizations were initially denied, these differences were “pretty drastic,” Dr. Wallace said. The median time to receiving a first infusion was 50 days, compared with 27 days when permission was not required, and glucocorticoid exposure during the 3 months following the request was 605 mg versus 160 mg.

Among patients whose authorizations were not denied, the median time to first infusion was 31 days, compared with 27 days when authorization was not required, and the mean glucocorticoid exposure over 3 months was 364 mg versus 160 mg.

“I hope that our findings will help facilitate discussions with insurance providers, pharmacy benefit managers, and state and federal legislators about the need to address the impact that prior authorization requirements have on patients and providers,” said Dr. Wallace, also of the clinical epidemiology program in the division of rheumatology, allergy and immunology at Massachusetts General, and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Of the 225 patients for whom an infusible medication was ordered, 71% required preauthorization. Of these, 79% were approved and 21% were denied after the first request. And in a finding that Dr. Wallace called “somewhat surprising,” 82% of the authorizations originally denied were approved after appeal.

All told, prior authorizations for infusible medications were eventually approved in all but a small number of cases. “We go through all this effort to get these prior authorizations approved, and 96% of the time, they were ultimately approved,” he said in an interview.

Dr. Christopher Phillips, a community rheumatologist in Paducah, Kentucky, who serves as chair of the insurance subcommittee of the American College of Rheumatology's Committee on Rheumatologic Care

Dr. Christopher Phillips

Christopher Phillips, MD, a community rheumatologist in Paducah, Ky., who serves as chair of the insurance subcommittee of the American College of Rheumatology’s committee on rheumatologic care, said the findings “give further credence” to rheumatologists’ concerns. “We know [from our own experiences] that prior authorizations delay care, and we know that delays can cause harm to patients. We now have hard data backing up this assertion.”

Regarding the high number of authorization approvals, “there’s an argument to be made that for certain treatments and certain conditions where the success rate of appeals is high enough, you shouldn’t be subjecting these treatments to these [preauthorization] policies,” he said.

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