Payers reducing the need for prior authorizations – what healthcare organizations need to know

October 17, 2023 by Experian Health

The phrase “it’s complicated” resonates well in the realm of prior authorizations in healthcare. Initially devised as a cost control strategy by insurance payers, the concept of prior authorization holds merit. However, the reality unfolds as a different tale, with 94% of doctors attributing care delays and diminished clinical outcomes to prior authorization hurdles. Furthermore, one in three doctors connect these authorizations to escalated healthcare resource utilization, manifested through patient hospitalizations and life-threatening clinical events.

There is a shimmer of hope as some insurers are retracting prior authorization prerequisites for certain conditions and procedures. However, this move might produce more complexities, given the distinct protocols of each payer. The traditional manual handling of prior authorizations by most providers leaves ample room for errors amidst these changes. A viable solution lies in leveraging technology. Experian Health’s electronic prior authorization software can expedite and streamline pre-certification workflows, keeping providers updated with the ever-evolving payer requirements.

What Are Prior Authorizations?

Prior authorization—sometimes called precertification or prior approval—is a health plan cost-control process by which physicians and other health care providers must obtain advance approval from a health plan before a specific service is delivered to the patient to qualify for payment coverage. This process can be time-consuming, burdensome, and can lead to delays in patient care.

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) says, “Prior authorization, or pre-certification, emerged decades ago to deter physicians from prescribing costly tests or procedures unjustifiably, aiming at delivering cost-effective care.” Initially, the focus was on high-cost care like chronic condition treatments. However, the spectrum has broadened, encompassing mundane clinical encounters like basic imaging or medication refills. Since 2020, a whopping 80% of providers have witnessed a surge in prior authorization volumes, stirring discussions on their necessity.

The American Medical Association (AMA) critiques the overuse of prior authorization, emphasizing the administrative and clinical issues it spawns. The lack of uniform documentation requirements across payers often culminates in unwarranted care denials and treatment delays. The administrative overhead is hefty; an average doctor processes 45 pre-authorizations weekly, a task primarily manual, time-consuming, and error prone.

Some Insurers Lifting Prior Authorization Requirements

The scrutiny over the years has prompted some payers to relax prior authorization mandates:

  • UnitedHealth is reducing nearly 20% of their prior authorization requisites for a variety of treatments from spine surgery and breast reconstruction to outpatient therapies and durable medical equipment
  • Humana has eliminated prior authorizations for cataract surgery for Georgia Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.
  • Following suit, Aetna has waived pre-certification for certain cataract surgeries, albeit excluding Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in Georgia and Florida. They have also ceased prior authorization for physical therapy in five states.

Currently, 30 state bills aiming to rectify the prior authorization problem are in the pipeline. Washington is on the verge of introducing new mandates for both private and public payers. However, the diverse new rules from payers and legislative attempts to address the issue might create new challenges.

How to Keep Track of Prior Authorization Changes

The traditional reliance on manual paperwork for prior authorizations remains predominant. Over half of the providers find the process daunting to organize and maintain. Experian Health’s electronic prior authorization solution stands to help automate this process, enhancing operational efficiency and curbing costly denials. The solution auto-updates with the latest payer rules, offering real-time tracking of authorization status and allowing manual look-up by CPT code or service description. This significantly reduces the time spent hunting for updated information.

Furthermore, the software can add actionable alerts, creating flags when payers change their requirements. For example, the Prior Authorization Knowledgebase, a proprietary repository for more than 160 national payers and their pre-certification rules, allows quick check functionality to see if a procedure requires appropriate use criteria adherence. Users can create service work queues when CMS requires adherence to Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC). Two supporting tools to aid these processes include the Medical Necessity tool, which validates clinical orders against CMS and private payer rules for fewer denials, and Claims Scrubber, which helps healthcare organizations prevent denials by improving claims accuracy.

Neeraj Joshi, Director of Product Management, at Experian Health, says, “Technology has the potential to significantly reduce the need for pre-authorization in healthcare by improving efficiency, streamlining processes, and enhancing decision-making. Automating prior authorizations eliminates the burden of tracking these constantly changing requirements. Following these changes by hand, scrolling back and forth between websites, then manually adding them to a rules list leaves room for error that no one can afford.”  

Using Technology to Streamline Prior Authorizations

Today, a mere 21% of providers have adopted electronic prior authorization software. The Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) projects that automation of service preapproval could slash healthcare’s administrative encumbrances by $437 million annually. More crucially, it would expedite patient decision timelines and care delivery. The impact on patient outcomes could be significantly positive over time.

The utilization of electronic prior authorization software promises to alleviate the anxiety doctors and patients endure while awaiting treatment approval. The AMA reports that 8 in 10 doctors acknowledge patient experience unwarranted care delays, sometimes leading to treatment abandonment due to prolonged prior authorization procedures. The technology to expedite prior authorizations is at our disposal, and progressively, healthcare organizations are transitioning towards it, mending the broken pieces of care delivery and reimbursement.

Joshi says, “While technology can reduce the need for pre-authorization in healthcare, it’s essential to strike a balance between ensuring the appropriate use of medical services and avoiding unnecessary delays in patient care. Healthcare providers can use technology to design more efficient workflows that minimize administrative burdens. For example, automating data entry and documentation can free up healthcare staff to focus on patient care. We have the tools available that can speed up these processes.”

Today, better health requires reducing the complexities of the healthcare paradigm. Experian Health offers provider organizations improved options for delivering care with robust technological solutions that improve the lives of clinicians, staff, and patients. We specialize in offering digital tools to improve every stage of the patient journey. Contact Experian Health today to improve your pre-approval processes with electronic prior authorization software.

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