Insurance Approval for Proton Beam Therapy and its Impact on Delays in Treatment

Apar Gupta, Atif J. Khan, Sharad Goyal, Rihan Millevoi, Natalia Elsebai, Salma K. Jabbour, Ning J. Yue, Bruce G. Haffty, Rahul R. Parikh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Purpose: Prior authorization (PA) has been widely implemented for proton beam therapy (PBT). We sought to determine the association between PA determination and patient characteristics, practice guidelines, and potential treatment delays. Methods and Materials: A single-institution retrospective analysis was performed of all patients considered for PBT between 2015 and 2018 at a National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Differences in treatment start times and denial rates over time were compared, and multivariable logistic regression was used to identify predictors of initial denial. Results: A total of 444 patients were considered for PBT, including 396 adult and 48 pediatric patients. The American Society for Radiation Oncology model policy supported PBT coverage for 77% of the cohort. Of adult patients requiring PA, 64% were initially denied and 32% remained denied after appeal. In patients considered for reirradiation or randomized phase 3 trial enrollment, initial denial rates were 57% and 64%, respectively. Insurance coverage was not related to diagnosis, reirradiation, trial enrollment, or the American Society for Radiation Oncology model policy guidelines, but it was related to insurance category on multivariable analysis (P < .001). Over a 3-year timespan, initial denial rates increased from 55% to 74% (P = .034). PA delayed treatment start by an average of 3 weeks (and up to 4 months) for those requiring appeal (P < .001) and resulted in 19% of denied patients abandoning radiation treatment altogether. Of pediatric patients, 9% were initially denied, all of whom were approved after appeal, and PA requirement did not delay treatment start (P = .47). Conclusions: PA requirements in adults represent a significant burden in initiating PBT and cause significant delays in patient care. Insurance approval is arbitrary and has become more restrictive over time, discordant with national clinical practice guidelines. Payors and providers should seek to streamline coverage policies in alignment with established guidelines to ensure appropriate and timely patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)714-723
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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