Delay in prior authorization of biologic therapy: Another possible cause of healthcare disparity in IBD patients

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of the National Medical Association




Biologics; Disparities; Inflammatory bowel disease; Insurance; Medicaid; Medicare


BACKGROUND: Biologics, a mainstay in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) treatment, typically require prior authorization from insurance companies. Multiple studies show that African Americans are less likely to be prescribed biologics. The prior authorization process may perpetuate disparities in healthcare. This study evaluated the approval time for biologics in IBD. METHODS: A chart review of IBD patients seen in a university gastroenterology clinic over 5 years was performed. Patient gender, race, IBD subtype, biologic use, and insurance type were recorded. Insurance type was classified as private or public (Medicaid or Medicare). Biologic agents evaluated included infliximab, adalimumab, vedolizumab and ustekinumab. Length of time to approval (TTA) and length of time to first infusion or administration (TFI) were recorded. Analysis was performed using t-testing, Fisher's exact testing, and ANOVA with significance set at p<0.05. The study was IRB approved. RESULTS: 458 charts were analyzed. 66 patients were being treated with a biologic. 42 had private insurance, 16 Medicaid and 8 Medicare. 37 patients had ulcerative colitis, 27 Crohn's disease, and 2 indeterminate colitis. There were 38 men and 28 women. 32 patients were white, 26 African American, 1 Asian, 5 other, and 2 declined identification. Average TTA was 30.5 days (range 1-145) and average TFI was 45.3 days (range 2-166). African Americans were more often on public insurance compared to whites (p=0.0001). Crohn's disease compared to ulcerative colitis patients were more often on public insurance (p=0.017). Significantly more private compared to public insurance patients were on infliximab (p=0.001). Medicaid and Medicare patients had significantly longer mean TTAs than private insurance patients (49.1 and 52.7 vs 19.4 days, p=0.007). African Americans had significantly longer mean TTA compared to whites (45.9 vs 24.8 days, p=0.044). Crohn's disease compared to ulcerative colitis patients had significantly longer mean TTA (39.7 vs 21.8 days, p=0.050). DISCUSSION: This study shows that prior authorization for biologic therapy was longer for African Americans. Patients on public insurance also tend to have a longer TTA, and more African Americans were on public insurance compared to White patients in this study which may explain the difference in biologic access for African Americans.