In two recent surveys, physicians said that pre-authorizations are burdensome to their practice and that they could lead to adverse patient outcomes. Kevin Campbell, MD, agrees that the insurance companies shouldn’t be part of patient practice, and says that the peer-to-peer review process is even worse.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Insurance companies have been granted far too much control over patient care over the last several decades. Nowhere is it more apparent than when physicians are asked to obtain “pre-approval” for guideline-based, medically necessary procedures. According to one survey from the Medical Group Management Association, 83% of those surveyed said prior authorizations are “very” or “extremely” burdensome to their practice and their staff. Another survey conducted of physicians found that nearly one-third of doctors believe that spending time obtaining pre-authorizations actually led to adverse patient outcomes.
Ninety percent of those practice managers have indicated that the amount of pre-authorizations have significantly increased over the last year. To illustrate the sheer volume of this work, there were 182 million pre-authorization transactions conducted last year alone.
While Congress has given lip service to this issue by hosting a hearing with doctors in September, no real changes have occurred. In fact, the insurance companies have lobbied Congress that these pre-authorizations are needed to reduce costs and prevent unneeded treatments.
I find this practice offensive. Who are insurance executives to decide who needs or does not need a procedure? Who are they to determine the appropriateness of a procedure? Did they go to medical school? Have they ever looked a patient in the eyes and told them they cannot have a life-saving procedure done because it costs too much?
Worse than the pre-authorization is the peer-to-peer consultations. As an electrophysiologist I spent nearly a decade training at Duke in order to become an expert in the implantation of pacemakers and ICDs and performing ablations. When I have a pre-auth denied, I have to get on the phone and argue my case for the procedure — which is based on ACC and HRS guidelines — to someone who has NEVER even seen a pacemaker, and almost always does not even understand how a pacemaker functions! Often these are retired pathologists, pediatricians, or other non-specialists that are making decisions about MY clinical judgment. In fact, an EP colleague of mine recently told me that he had to do a peer-to-peer consult to argue the appropriateness of an ICD implantation. When he began the consultation, the insurance company representative, who was supposedly an MD, said that he could not justify putting ACID into a patient. The trick here is that this guy did not even know that it was an AICD or a defibrillator and not ACID. This just illustrates the level of incompetence of the reviewing doctors that insurance companies hire to review the appropriateness of procedures.
We cannot stand for this any longer. Insurance companies are working around the clock to avoid paying for care. Our patients and our employers pay insurance companies for coverage. The physicians that care for patients every day — by and large — provide evidence-based care and do what is indicated for patients based on guidelines. It is insulting and frankly disgusting to have someone who has no knowledge of a particular specialty making a determination of care appropriateness on a patient that they have never evaluated and with no expert knowledge on the topic. Moreover, these reviewing MDs are actually compensated for NOT approving procedures.
Our patients are suffering. Our staff is becoming overworked with dealing with pre-authorizations. Our doctors are wasting valuable time on the phone arguing with ignorant MD reviewers employed and incentivized by insurance companies. Lets take medicine back — contact your congressman or congresswoman today.
Kevin Campbell, MD, is a cardiologist based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Chief Innovation Officer at biocynetic. In addition to his weekly video analyses on MedPage Today, he is the official medical expert at WNCN in Raleigh and makes frequent guest appearances on other national media outlets such as Fox News and HLN.