Retirees may face this hassle with Medicare Advantage

Feb 13, 2023 | Medicare, Medicare Supplement

By: Kerry Hannon

Seniors who opted for private Medicare insurance plans should not be shy about pushing back on denials for pre-authorizations, according to a new study.

Of the 35 million requests by Medicare Advantage enrollees seeking prior authorization for healthcare services or medications in 2021, two million of those requests were fully or partially denied, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit organization.

The results raise flags that the approval process may create unnecessary obstacles for patients to receive medical care and underscored that seniors may want to spend more time shopping around for these popular plans to avoid these hassles.

“The high frequency of favorable outcomes upon appeal raises questions about whether a larger share of initial determinations should have been approved,” Jeannie Fuglesten Biniek, KFF’s associate director, program on Medicare Policy and Nolan Sroczynski, a KFF data analyst, wrote.

“It could reflect initial requests that failed to provide necessary documentation. In either case, medical care that was ordered by a healthcare provider and ultimately deemed necessary was potentially delayed because of the additional step of appealing the initial prior authorization decision, which may have negative effects on beneficiaries’ health,” the authors concluded.

Don’t take no for an answer

The pre-authorization hoop primarily impacts people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, a privatized, managed-care version of the traditional Medicare program.

In 2022, virtually all Medicare Advantage enrollees (99%) were enrolled in a plan that required prior authorization for some services. Most commonly, higher cost services, such as chemotherapy or skilled nursing facility stays, require prior authorization, according to KFF’s study, which reviewed data from 515 Medicare Advantage contracts, representing 23 million Medicare Advantage enrollees.

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