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Navigating United Healthcare’s Recent Colonoscopy Charges Changes

June 19, 2023

The recent changes to UnitedHealthcare’s colonoscopy coverage have sent shockwaves through the medical community. Gastroenterologists and patients alike are grappling with the implementation of a controversial process called prior authorization, which has the potential to create barriers to essential diagnostic and surveillance colonoscopies.

The Impact of UnitedHealthcare’s Policy

UnitedHealthcare’s decision to require prior authorization for colonoscopies, effective June 1, 2023, has left gastroenterologists bewildered and concerned.

Under this new policy, patients seeking surveillance and diagnostic colonoscopies must obtain approval from UnitedHealthcare or face out-of-pocket expenses. Physicians fear that this requirement will hinder timely access to endoscopic procedures, particularly those for cancer detection, which constitute a significant portion of gastroenterologists’ workload.

coronis health gastroenterologist reviewing screen near vital signs

Challenges and Consequences of a Major Policy Change

Physicians across the country have expressed serious worries about the adverse effects of prior authorization on patient care. The process often leads to delays and denials of necessary treatments, resulting in potentially serious consequences, such as:

  • Treatment Delays: Prior authorization can result in significant delays in patients receiving necessary treatments. The approval process can be time-consuming, requiring multiple steps and documentation, leading to a prolonged wait for patients. 
  • Decreased Patient Compliance: Patients may become overwhelmed by the administrative burden and the uncertainty of whether their treatment will be approved. This can result in decreased patient compliance and adherence to recommended treatments, potentially compromising their health outcomes.
  • Disruption of Continuity of Care: If a treatment or medication is denied due to prior authorization, patients may need to switch to an alternative treatment plan. This interruption can lead to discontinuity in the management of their condition and impact their overall healthcare experience.
  • Adverse Health Outcomes: Conditions that require timely intervention, such as cancer or chronic diseases, may worsen if treatment is delayed or denied. This can lead to increased morbidity, complications, and potentially even life-threatening situations.
  • Increased Administrative Burden on Physicians: Physicians and their staff often bear the brunt of the administrative burden associated with prior authorization. They must navigate complex paperwork, provide additional documentation, and spend valuable time communicating with insurance companies to obtain approvals. This increased administrative workload can take away time and resources from direct patient care.
  • Financial Strain on Patients: Patients may be responsible for the full cost out-of-pocket or may need to pursue lengthy appeals processes if treatments or procedures are denied. This can lead to financial stress, potential debt, and limited access to necessary care for those who cannot afford the expenses.
  • Decreased Patient Satisfaction: The frustration and difficulties associated with prior authorization can erode trust between patients and healthcare providers.

Patients with concerning symptoms or undiagnosed cancer may face prolonged waiting periods for approval, exacerbating their conditions and leading to devastating outcomes. Moreover, the timing of UnitedHealthcare’s announcement, coinciding with Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, has been seen as tone-deaf and offensive by healthcare professionals.

The Complexities of Prior Authorization

coronis health gastroenterologist holding colonoscope near patient

While prior authorization aims to control overspending in healthcare, its execution often presents complications. Physicians and patients have long struggled with a convoluted process involving insurance employees lacking medical training. It frequently leads to delays, denials, and increased administrative burdens for medical practices. 

Appeals and peer-to-peer calls further extend the timeline, leaving patients in limbo. With UnitedHealthcare’s prior authorization policy, patients may face additional barriers to completing colonoscopies, discouraging them from pursuing vital screenings.

The Impact on High-Risk Patients

The new policy exempts screening colonoscopies for low-risk individuals but requires prior authorization for diagnostic and surveillance colonoscopies. This distinction fails to alleviate concerns among gastroenterologists. High-risk patients, who require more intensive screening strategies, will now face additional obstacles to accessing crucial procedures. For patients with a history of polyps or genetic predispositions to colorectal cancer, regular surveillance is a matter of life and death. Delayed or denied authorizations can have severe consequences, potentially worsening disparities and patient outcomes.

Outsourcing Revenue Cycle Management to Navigate Colonoscopy Coverage Changes

Amidst these challenges, Coronis Health stands ready to support physicians and medical practices in adapting to UnitedHealthcare’s colonoscopy coverage changes. With expertise in revenue cycle management, medical billing, and medical coding, Coronis Health helps streamline administrative processes and navigate the complexities of prior authorization. Our team of professionals understands the unique needs of healthcare providers and can provide tailored solutions to ensure prompt access to necessary colonoscopies for patients.

Contact us today and schedule a no-cost financial health checkup to find out how we can help your practice thrive in healthcare’s ever-evolving landscape.

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