What is prior authorization?

What is Prior Authorization?

What is prior authorization?

Prior authorization is a process used by insurance companies and healthcare providers to determine if a specific medical treatment, procedure, or medication is necessary and covered by the patient’s insurance plan. It involves obtaining approval from the insurance company before the service is provided or the medication is prescribed.

Why is Prior Authorization Necessary?

Prior authorization is necessary for several reasons:

  • To control healthcare costs: Insurance companies use prior authorization to ensure that only medically necessary treatments and medications are covered. This helps prevent unnecessary expenses and reduces the overall cost of healthcare.
  • To ensure appropriate care: Prior authorization helps ensure that patients receive the most appropriate and effective treatments for their specific medical conditions. It allows insurance companies to review the medical necessity and appropriateness of the requested service or medication.
  • To prevent fraud and abuse: Prior authorization helps detect and prevent fraudulent or unnecessary medical services or prescriptions. It allows insurance companies to verify the legitimacy of the requested treatment and avoid paying for services that are not medically necessary.

How Does Prior Authorization Work?

The process of prior authorization typically involves the following steps:

  1. The healthcare provider determines that a specific treatment, procedure, or medication is necessary for the patient’s condition.
  2. The provider submits a prior authorization request to the patient’s insurance company. This request includes relevant medical information, such as the patient’s diagnosis, medical history, and supporting documentation.
  3. The insurance company reviews the request and evaluates the medical necessity of the requested service or medication. This review is often conducted by a team of medical professionals who specialize in the relevant field.
  4. Based on the review, the insurance company either approves or denies the prior authorization request. If approved, the provider can proceed with the recommended treatment or prescription. If denied, the provider may need to explore alternative options or appeal the decision.

Challenges and Controversies

Prior authorization can be a source of frustration for both healthcare providers and patients. Some of the challenges and controversies associated with prior authorization include:

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  • Administrative burden: The process of obtaining prior authorization can be time-consuming and require significant administrative work for healthcare providers. This can result in delays in patient care and increased administrative costs.
  • Denials and delays: Insurance companies may deny prior authorization requests for various reasons, including lack of medical necessity or coverage restrictions. These denials can lead to delays in receiving necessary treatments or medications.
  • Complexity and inconsistency: The criteria for prior authorization can vary between insurance companies and even within different plans offered by the same company. This can create confusion and inconsistency in the approval process.


Prior authorization plays a crucial role in controlling healthcare costs, ensuring appropriate care, and preventing fraud and abuse. While it can be a challenging and controversial process, it is an important mechanism for insurance companies to evaluate the medical necessity and appropriateness of treatments and medications. By understanding the process and potential challenges, healthcare providers and patients can navigate the prior authorization process more effectively and advocate for the best possible care.

Question and Answer

Q: Does prior authorization always result in a denial?

A: No, prior authorization does not always result in a denial. While some requests may be denied due to lack of medical necessity or coverage restrictions, many requests are approved after the insurance company reviews the relevant medical information. It is important for healthcare providers to provide thorough and accurate documentation to support the need for the requested service or medication.


Prior authorization is a process used by insurance companies to determine the medical necessity and coverage of specific treatments, procedures, or medications. It helps control healthcare costs, ensure appropriate care, and prevent fraud and abuse. The process involves submitting a request to the insurance company, which then reviews the request and either approves or denies it. Prior authorization can be challenging and controversial, but understanding the process and potential challenges can help healthcare providers and patients navigate it more effectively.

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