'We're not deaf to the complaints': Big payers moving to cut prior authorization requirements

UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Cigna are moving to trim their prior authorization programs, which providers have criticized as burdensome, The Wall Street Journal reported March 29. 

Starting in the third quarter of 2023, UnitedHealthcare will remove several procedures and medical devices from its list of services requiring prior authorization, according to the report. It also said it would eliminate many prior authorization requirements for gold-card doctors and hospitals beginning next year. 

"We're not deaf to the complaints out there," Philip Kaufman, UnitedHealthcare's chief growth officer, told the Journal. "We've taken a hard look at ourselves and this process."

The payer processes about 13 million prior authorization requests a year out of about 600 million claims, according to the report. Officials said the changes are projected to reduce the number of prior authorization to about 10 million per year. 

Cigna said it has been removing prior authorization requirements for about 500 services and devices since 2020, according to the report. Aetna said it is working to automate and simplify the prior authorization process. 

American Medical Association President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, told the Journal he is cautiously optimistic about UnitedHealthcare's changes but wants to see the details to be sure they will bring meaningful improvements. 

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