Practice Management Toolbox

Removing barriers to high-value IBD care: Challenges and opportunities


Over the last several years, payer policies that dictate and restrict treatments for patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) have proliferated. The implementation of new coverage restrictions, expansion of services and procedures requiring prior authorization (PA), and dosing and access restriction to covered drugs, and the requirement of repeated treatment reviews including nonmedical switching for stable patients are widespread. The AGA administered a member needs assessment survey in December 2021 to determine the extent to which these policies harm patients and overburden gastroenterologists and their staff.

Survey findings

Dr. Feuerstein is with the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and is an associate professor of medicine Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.

Dr. Joseph D. Feuerstein

Most of the 100 surveyed members reported facing administrative burdens that prevented timely access to patient care. Utilization management practices such as PA, step therapy, and nonmedical switching and dosing restrictions create critical barriers to high quality GI care for patients with chronic conditions and jeopardize the physician-patient relationship. At a time when physicians have faced unprecedented challenges because of the public health emergency from the COVID-19 pandemic, these burdens also contribute to increasing physician burnout.

Prior authorization: Among AGA members, 96% of members said that PA is burdensome, with 61% indicating that it is significantly burdensome. Almost 99% of members indicated that PA has a negative impact on patients’ access to clinically appropriate treatments; 89% reported that the burden associated with PA has increased over the last 5 years in their practice.

Step therapy: Among members, 87% described the impact step therapy has on their practice as burdensome. Almost 90% of members said step therapy negatively impacted patients’ access to clinically appropriate treatments. Almost 90% of members felt that there was an overall negative impact on patient clinical outcomes for those patients who were required to follow a step therapy protocol.

Dr. Sofia is an assistant professor of medicine with the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland.

Dr. M. Anthony Sofia

Nonmedical switching and dosing restrictions: Out of all members, 86% reported an increase in nonmedical switching and dosing restrictions over the last 5 years; 79% of members noted that these restrictions had a negative impact on patient clinical outcomes.

An increasing number of insurance companies are restricting effective biologic therapy to Food and Drug Administration–labeled doses, in direct conflict with current established best practices. It is most concerning that many patients who had been stable on optimized dosing are suddenly notified that they will no longer be able to receive the dose or treatment frequency prescribed by their physician. The concept of optimizing drug therapy based on disease activity and therapeutic drug monitoring is well established, and artificial restrictions to FDA-labeled doses force unnecessary drug deescalation. This transparent effort to reduce costs lacks evidence for safety. Our sickest patients often require higher doses for induction in order to respond, given drug losses, yet some payers refuse to cover the doses these patients require. This new payer-centered effort prioritizes cost containment over the judgment of the treating physician. It causes direct patient harm risking efficacy or loss of response, and subsequent irreversible disease-related complications.


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