Prior Authorizations Delay TNF Inhibitors for Children With JIA

Tara Haelle

May 11, 2022

Children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) who need a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor after failing conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) treatment often experience insurance delays before beginning the new drug because of prior authorization denials, according to research presented at the 2022 annual meeting of the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA). The findings were also published April 21 as a research letter in JAMA Network Open.

"Prompt escalation to TNF inhibitors is recommended for children with JIA refractory to DMARDs," author Jordan Roberts, MD, a clinical fellow of the Harvard Medical School Rheumatology Program, Boston, Massachusetts, told CARRA attendees. TNF inhibitors are increasingly used as first-line treatment in JIA since growing evidence suggests better outcomes from early treatment with biologics. "Prior authorization requirements that delay TNF inhibitor initiation among children with JIA are common in clinical practice," Roberts said, but little evidence exists to understand the extent of this problem and its causes.

The researchers therefore conducted a retrospective cohort study using a search of electronic health records from January 2018 to December 2019 to find all children at a single center with a new diagnosis of nonsystemic JIA. Then the authors pulled the timing of prior authorization requests, approvals, denials, and first TNF inhibitor dose from the medical notes. They also sought out any children who had been recommended a TNF inhibitor but never started one.

The total population included 54 children with an average age of 10 years, about two-thirds of whom had private insurance (63%). The group was predominantly white (63%), although 13% declined to provide race, and 7% were Hispanic. Most subtypes of disease were represented: oligoarticular persistent (28%), oligoarticular extended (2%), polyarticular rheumatoid factor-negative (15%), polyarticular rheumatoid factor-positive (15%), psoriatic arthritis (26%), enthesitis-related arthritis (12%), and undifferentiated arthritis (2%).

The 44 participants with private insurance had an average of two joints with active disease while the 10 patients with public insurance had an average of four involved joints. Nearly all the patients (91%) had previously taken or were currently taking DMARDs when the prior authorization was submitted, and 61% had received NSAIDs.

All but one of the patients' insurance plans required a prior authorization. The first prior authorization was denied for about one-third of the public insurance patients (30%) and a quarter of the private insurance patients. About 1 in 5 patients overall (22%) required a written appeal to override the denial, and 4% required peer-to-peer review. Meanwhile, 7% of patients began another medication because of the denial.

It took a median of 3 days for prior authorizations to be approved and a median of 24 days from the time the TNF inhibitor was recommended to the patient receiving the first dose. However, 22% of patients waited at least 2 weeks before the prior authorization was approved, and more than a quarter of the requests took over 30 days before the patient could begin the medication. In the public insurance group in particular, a quarter of children waited at least 19 days for approval and at least 44 days before starting the medication.

In fact, when the researchers looked at the difference in approval time between those who did and did not receive an initial denial, the difference was stark. Median approval time was 16 days when the prior authorization was denied, compared with a median of 5 days when the first prior authorization was approved. Similarly, time to initiation of the drug after recommendation was a median of 35 days for those whose prior authorization was first denied and 17 days for those with an initial approval.

The most common reason for an initial denial was the insurance company requiring a different TNF inhibitor than the one the rheumatologist wanted to prescribe. "These were all children whose rheumatologist has recommended either infliximab or etanercept that were required to use adalimumab instead," Roberts said.

The other reasons for initial denial were similarly familiar ones:

  • Required submission to another insurer

  • Additional documentation required

  • Lack of medical necessity

  • Prescription was for an indication not approved by the Food and Drug Administration

  • Age of patient

  • Nonbiologic DMARD required

  • NSAID required for step therapy

Only three children who were advised to begin a TNF inhibitor did not do so, including one who was lost to follow-up, one who had injection-related anxiety, and one who had safety concerns about the medication.

"Several children were required to use alternative TNF inhibitors than the one that was recommended due to restricted formularies, which may reduce shared decision-making between physicians and families and may not be the optimal clinical choice for an individual child," Roberts said in her conclusion. Most children, however, were able to get approval for the TNF inhibitor originally requested, "suggesting that utilization management strategies present barriers to timely care despite appropriate specialty medication requests," she said. "Therefore, it's important for us to advocate for access to medications for children with JIA."

Findings Are Not Surprising

"I have these same experiences at my institution — often insurance will dictate clinical practice, and step therapy is the only option, causing a delay to initiation of TNFi even if we think, as the pediatric rheumatologist, that a child needs this medicine to be initiated on presentation to our clinic," Nayimisha Balmuri, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, told Medscape Medical News.

Balmuri, who was not involved in the study, noted that in her clinic at Johns Hopkins, it is hit or miss if an appeal to insurance companies or to the state (if it is Medicaid coverage) will be successful. "Unfortunately, [we are] mostly unsuccessful and we have to try another DMARD for 8 to 12 weeks first before trying to get TNFi," she said.

Balmuri called for bringing these issues to the attention of state and federal legislators. "It's so important for us to continue to advocate for our patients at the state and national level! We are the advocates for our patients, and we are uniquely trained to know the best medications to initiate to help patients maximize their chance to reach remission of arthritis. Insurance companies need to hear our voices!"

Roberts reported grants from CARRA, the Lupus Foundation of America, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the conduct of the study.

JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5:e228330. Full text

CARRA 2022. Presented May 2, 2022.

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