‘What’s My Life Worth?’ The Big Business of Denying Medical Care


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‘What’s My Life Worth?’ The Big Business of Denying Medical Care

March 14, 2024, 5:02 a.m. ET
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Video by Alexander Stockton

Mr. Stockton is a producer with Opinion Video.

Should your insurance company be allowed to stop you from getting a treatment — even if your doctor says it’s necessary?

Doctors are often required to get insurance permission before providing medical care. This process is called prior authorization and it can be used by profit-seeking insurance companies to create intentional barriers between patients and the health care they need.

At best, it’s just a minor bureaucratic headache. At worst, people have died.

Prior authorization has been around for decades, but doctors say its use has increased in recent years and now rank it as one of the top issues in health care.

To produce the Opinion Video above, we spoke to more than 50 doctors and patients. They shared horror stories about a seemingly trivial process that inflicts enormous pain, on a daily basis. The video also explains how a process that is supposed to save money actually inflates U.S. health care costs while enriching insurance companies.

Prior authorization has come under intense scrutiny in Congress in the past few years, but bipartisan proposals have repeatedly stalled. Under public pressure, some insurance companies — like United Healthcare and Cigna — have said they would reduce the use of prior authorization. And in January, the Biden administration finalized a plan to put limited guardrails around this practice. But doctors say that these efforts only scratch the surface and should go further.

This issue is ultimately about the role of insurance companies in American health care: Should they have more power than your doctor to decide what’s medically best for you?

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