This is a helpful guide to understanding health insurance prior authorizations for radiology services and prescription drugs. This is the perspective of your primary care provider and should give you insight into the process to help set your own expectations. Your primary care provider is trying to help you navigate your insurance benefits and every plan is different, so this is a basic overview that covers the most common situations that we run into as a primary care provider.
What is a prior authorization?
Prior authorization is the process in which an insurance company asks for additional information from your healthcare provider in order to make sure that the medication that is being prescribed to you is the proper fit. While this is often required by insurance companies in an effort to reduce healthcare costs, they are additionally checking to make sure the medication is medically necessary, that up to date prescribing recommendations are being followed, and that any ongoing prescriptions are actually helping you. While this process may lead to a delay in filling your medication it does not mean that your insurance company will not allow you to take this medication. It does mean that you must meet certain requirements that deem this medication is right for you, and worth the expense, for your insurance company to allow this to be a part of your prescription benefits plan.
What happens when a prior authorization is required and how can you help?
The first group to know if a prior authorization is needed for your medication will be your pharmacy when they go to process your prescription with your insurance. Traditionally, the pharmacy is supposed to notify both you and your physicians office that prior authorization is required. However, as communication is key in this process, you can also contact your provider’s office to inform us. After notice of prior authorization being required, your physician’s office will begin the necessary steps to get approval. This does not mean that you do not have to do anything, as there are some ways in which you can help.
- First, you can try to find out from your pharmacist or insurance company why your medication was denied. Examples of reasons include non-formulary medications, step therapy requirements, plan exclusions, or quantity limitations. If your pharmacy is not able to access this information, then you should obtain a copy of your formulary, which will detail all the medications that are or are not covered under your prescription benefits plan. By knowing why your medication is being denied your physician’s office can either alter your prescription to fit within requirements or will be able to compile the proper data to show why this medication is still the proper fit for you.
- Second, make sure that your provider’s office has all the relevant information related to this drug. This may include information on any medications you may have taken in the past for this condition and why you cannot take them, any allergies you may have to certain classes of drugs, or any information that will show why you are not a proper candidate for trying alternative medications. While it may not be convenient digging up this information, the more relevant history that is supplied, the more likely that authorization will get approved. All information that is relevant to your medication authorization will be submitted to your insurance company along with the proper authorization forms.
How long do prior authorizations take?
Authorization forms vary based on the insurance company and the medication. while some can be completed relatively quickly, there are on occasion lengthy forms that require extensive documentation and collaboration with specialists. Additionally, you should be aware that providers are not in office every day and do have, on most days, full schedules. Once prior authorization forms are completed and submitted to an insurance company, the turn around time for a response is usually between 48 to 72 business hours. There are on occasion longer wait times, which we will try to communicate to you if applicable to your case.
What if my prior authorization gets denied?
If an insurance company chooses to deny your medication after a request for authorization, then your provider may choose to appeal the decision of the insurance company or may change the medication they have prescribed you. This decision will require communication with your provider and may entail you coming in for an appointment to try and discuss your options. If you do decide with your provider to appeal the authorization denial, please be aware that this is often a much longer process then the initial authorization and you may need to consult with your physician what to do in the meantime while waiting for approval. It is also important to note that if your insurance company does not approve your medication, it does not mean you cannot get it at all. You can still get this prescription as a self-pay patient and can often find coupons from your provider or online that will assist in the high cost of the medication. If you would like to do this please inform your physicians office so they may assist you in finding cost assistance options.
What if my prior authorization gets approved?
Congratulations! Once your authorization is approved by your insurance company you should be able to pick up your prescription immediately from the pharmacy. You should additionally receive notice from your insurance company of the approval via mail or web depending on how your insurance company communicates with you. It is important to note that your medication will be applied to your pharmacy benefits, so your cost for the medication will depend on your prescription coverage. In the off chance that your medication ends up still being too expensive, you can try to pay self-pay with coupons as detailed above or choose to make an appointment with your provider to discuss other options.