CMS puts patients over paperwork with new rule that addresses authorization process

Jan. 15, 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a signature accomplishment of the new Office of Burden Reduction & Health Informatics (OBRHI), which builds on the efforts to drive interoperability, empower patients, and reduce costs and burden in the healthcare market by promoting secure electronic access to health data in new and innovative ways.  

These significant changes include allowing certain payers, providers and patients to have electronic access to pending and active prior authorization decisions, which should result in fewer repeated requests for prior authorizations, reducing costs and onerous administrative burden to our frontline providers. This final rule will result in providers having more time to focus on their patients and provide higher quality care.

The “CMS Interoperability and Prior Authorization” rule is the next phase of CMS interoperability rulemaking, aimed at improving data exchange while simultaneously reducing provider and patient burden. This final rule requires the payers regulated under this rule (namely, Medicaid and CHIP managed care plans, state Medicaid and CHIP fee-for-service programs (FFS) and issuers of individual market Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) on the Federally facilitated exchanges (FFEs)) to implement application programming interfaces (APIs) that will give providers better access to data about their patients and streamline the process of prior authorization. APIs are the foundation of smartphone applications, and when integrated with a provider’s electronic health record (EHR), they can enable data access at the touch of a button.

By exchanging relevant health information between patients, providers and payers, APIs support a better health care experience for patients. Patients have easier access to their own health information, their providers have a more complete picture of their care, and patients can take their information with them as they move from plan to plan, and from provider to provider throughout the healthcare system. This ensures more coordinated, quality care, and less repetitive and unnecessary care that is costly.

The rule requires Medicaid and CHIP (FFS) programs, Medicaid and CHIP managed care plans, and issuers of individual market QHPs on the FFEs to include, as part of the already established Patient Access API, claims and encounter data, including laboratory results, and information about the patient’s pending and active prior authorization decisions. These payers are also required to share this data directly with patients’ providers if they ask for it and with other payers as the patient moves from one payer to another. In this way, patients, providers, and payers have the data when and where they need it, to help ensure that patients receive the best possible care. While Medicare Advantage plans are not included in and therefore not subject to this final rule, CMS is considering whether to do so in future rulemaking.

Payers use prior authorization as a way to manage health care costs and ensure payment accuracy. For certain services, providers request approval from payers before rendering care to ensure that the payer will determine that the care is medically necessary, a threshold requirement for care to be reimbursed under the patients’ health coverage. This administrative process can be burdensome, and the challenges of the prior authorization process have motivated industry efforts to develop tools to increase automation. This final rule aims to reduce the inefficiencies and burdens of the prior authorization process for providers and give them back time to focus on what matters most, treating patients in a timely manner.

The final rule is at:

CMS has the release.