top of page

Demystifying Prior Authorizations for Medications

Navigating the world of healthcare can be a complex journey, and one aspect that often presents challenges for both patients and healthcare providers is the process of prior authorizations for medications. Let's break down prior authorizations into language that we can understand. In this blog post, we will explore the purpose of prior authorizations, the steps involved, and discuss some potential strategies for a smoother experience.

Understanding Prior Authorizations

Prior authorizations, also known as pre-approvals or prior approvals, are a process used by health insurance companies to determine whether a prescribed medication meets the criteria for coverage. Essentially, it's a way for insurance companies to make sure that the medication being prescribed is medically necessary, safe, and cost-effective.

Purpose of Prior Authorizations

The main goal of prior authorizations is to strike a balance between providing necessary medications while managing healthcare costs. By requiring healthcare providers to obtain prior authorization, insurance companies can review the clinical information supporting the prescription, ensuring it aligns with accepted guidelines and criteria. This process also helps prevent overutilization, off-label use, and potential drug interactions.

What types of prescriptions require prior authorizations?

Insurance companies will most likely require prior authorizations for the following drugs:

  • Brand-name drugs that have a generic available.

  • Drugs that are intended for certain age groups or conditions only.

  • Drugs used only for cosmetic reasons.

  • Drugs that are neither preventative nor used to treat non-life-threatening conditions.

  • Drugs (including those dosed at higher than standard doses) that may have adverse health effects, possibly dangerous interactions, and/or risks for abuse or misuse.

  • Drugs that are not covered by your insurance, but deemed medically necessary by your healthcare provider.

Steps Involved in the Prior Authorization Process

1. Evaluation of medical necessity: First, the healthcare provider assesses the patient's medical condition and determines whether a particular medication is appropriate and necessary for the treatment.

2. Identification of covered medications: Ideally, the next step is that the provider should be able to easily check the patient's insurance formulary to see if the prescribed medication is covered by the patient's insurance plan. Often, however, the insurance formulary is not easily accessible to the provider. A patient usually has better access to his/her insurance formulary and can often help with this step.

3. Submission of prior authorization request: The provider or their staff completes a prior authorization request, which includes relevant clinical information such as diagnosis, medical history, and supporting documentation. Please note that supporting documentation often means clinical notes or lab results.

4. Review by the insurance company: The insurance company then reviews the prior authorization request, evaluating the medical necessity and appropriateness of the requested medication based on their established criteria.

5. Decision and notification: After reviewing the request, the insurance company communicates their decision to the healthcare provider. This decision could include approval, denial, or a request for additional information. For example, approval of some medications require that there first has been an attempt at "step-therapy" or "step-protocol". Step-therapy is the practice of beginning drug therapy for a medical condition with the most cost-effective and safest drug therapy and then progressing to other more costly or risky therapy, only if necessary. Documentation of past therapies or medications which support attempts at step-therapy may be required.

6. Appeals process: If the prior authorization request is denied, healthcare providers can initiate an appeals process to present additional evidence or discuss the case further with the insurance company.

Tips for a Smoother Prior Authorization Experience

1. Stay informed: Patients should be aware of their insurance coverage and formulary to understand which medications may require prior authorization.

2. Engage in open communication: Patients should communicate openly with their healthcare providers about insurance coverage limitations and potential alternatives to medications that require prior authorization. Additionally, please also be as detailed as possible when discussing past treatment attempts including dates (if known), possible side effects or adverse reactions, and reasons for discontinuing or failing the treatment. Thorough documentation in the medical record helps with supporting documentation when necessary for prior authorization submissions.

3. Understand the requirements: Healthcare providers should familiarize themselves with the specific criteria and documentation required by insurance companies for prior authorizations.

4. Be proactive: Submit prior authorization requests as early as possible to allow sufficient time for the review process, reducing the risk of treatment delays.

5. Document thoroughly: Ensure that all clinical documentation is complete, including medical records, diagnostic reports, and any relevant peer-reviewed studies supporting the medication's use.


Prior authorizations for medications can be a complex aspect of healthcare, but by breaking it down into understandable terms, we can better grasp its purpose and processes. This process is meant to ensure appropriate medication use, cost-effectiveness, and patient safety, but can be time-consuming, confusing, and frustrating. By understanding the steps involved, patients and healthcare providers can navigate the prior authorization process more smoothly, improving access to necessary medications.

26 views0 comments


bottom of page