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Red Tape Means Many Cancer Patients Get Radiation Treatments Late

THURSDAY, May 2, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- When you are fighting cancer, time is of the essence, but new research shows that insurance approvals for lifesaving radiation treatment are often delayed.

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) surveyed nearly 700 radiation oncologists and found that 93% said prior authorization-related delays by insurance companies affect their patients, while 31% said the average delay is longer than five days.

These delays cause added stress and anxiety for patients, and research has linked each week of delay in starting cancer therapy with a 1.2% to 3.2% increased risk of death, according to ASTRO.

"Radiation oncology and cancer patients have been particularly hard hit by prior authorization's unnecessary burden and interference in care decisions," said Dr. Vivek Kavadi, vice chair of ASTRO's payer relations subcommittee.

"Radiation oncologists increasingly are restricted from exercising our clinical judgment in what is in the best interest of the patient, yet we are held accountable for the outcomes of treatments where decisions have been taken out of our hands," Kavadi said in a society news release.

In the survey, more than 7 in 10 respondents said their patients regularly express concern to them about delays caused by prior authorization, and more than 3 in 10 said they've been forced to use a different therapy for more than 10% of patients due to prior authorization delays.

Patients treated at community-based, private practices face longer delays than those seen at academic centers.

"This survey makes clear that restrictive prior authorization practices can cause unnecessary, stressful and potentially life-threatening delays for cancer patients," said ASTRO chair Dr. Paul Harari.

"While the system may have been designed as a path to streamline and strengthen health care, it is in fact frequently harmful to patients receiving radiation therapy," said Harari, who is also chair of human oncology at the University of Wisconsin.

"In its current form, prior authorization causes immense anxiety and wastes precious time for cancer patients," he said.

The survey was published recently by ASTRO.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on radiation therapy.

SOURCE: American Society for Radiation Oncology, news release, April 24, 2019

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