Starting June 1, UnitedHealthcare will require physicians to submit prior authorization requests for certain types of colonoscopies. While routine screening colonoscopies will remain exempt, United beneficiaries requiring surveillance or diagnostic colonoscopies—which are performed on patients at greater risk of developing colon cancer or those already exhibiting worrisome symptoms—will need advance approval for the procedures to be covered by the payer. A UnitedHealthcare spokesperson said that this policy change is due to concerns that colonoscopy overutilization generates unnecessary medical risks and higher healthcare spending for patients.
The American College of Gastroenterology released a statement criticizing the new policy on the grounds that prior authorization requirements create harmful delays for patients and are a significant source of provider burnout.
The Gist: So much for the planned rollback of prior authorizations that UnitedHealthcare recently touted.
While the insurer is not wrong in saying that some studies have documented overutilization of colonoscopies,
prior authorization is a blunt tool that takes care decision making out of practicing providers’ hands, redirecting that power (along with more profit) to the payer.
To process prior authorization requests in a timely manner, insurers now commonly rely on AI algorithms, which are an imperfect solution. For patients exhibiting signs of colon cancer, improper denials and delayed approvals for colonoscopies could have life-threatening implications.