Purpose: Proton therapy is increasingly prescribed, given its potential to improve outcomes; however, prior authorization remains a barrier to access and is associated with frequent denials and treatment delays. We sought to determine whether appropriate access to proton therapy could ensure timely care without overuse or increased costs.
Methods: Our large academic cancer center collaborated with a statewide self-funded employer (n = 186,000 enrollees) on an insurance coverage pilot, incorporating a value-based analysis and ensuring preauthorization for appropriate indications. Coverage was ensured for prospective trials and five evidence-supported anatomic sites. Enrollment initiated in 2016 and continued for 3 years. Primary end points were use, authorization time, and cost of care, with case-matched comparison of total charges at 1 month pretreatment through 6 months posttreatment.
Results: Thirty-two patients were approved over 3 years, with only 22 actually receiving proton therapy, versus a predicted use by 120 patients (P < .01). Median follow-up was 20.1 months, and average authorization time decreased from 17 days to < 1 day (P < .01), significantly enhancing patient access. During this time, 25 patients who met pilot eligibility were instead treated with photons; and 17 patients with > 6 months of follow-up were case matched by treatment site to 17 patients receiving proton therapy, with no significant differences in sex, age, performance status, stage, histology, indication, prescribed fractions, or chemotherapy. Total medical costs (including radiation therapy [RT] and non-RT charges) for patients treated with PBT were lower than expected (a cost increase initially was expected), with no significant difference in total average charges (P = .82), in the context of overall ancillary care use.
Conclusion: This coverage pilot demonstrated that appropriate access to proton therapy does not necessitate overuse or significantly increase comprehensive medical costs. Objective evidence-based coverage polices ensure appropriate patient selection. Stakeholder collaboration can streamline patient access while reducing administrative burden.