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SALT LAKE CITY — People of color are experiencing significant delays when they try to obtain a more targeted and effective form of radiation therapy, according to a Huntsman Cancer Institute study released Friday.
The study examined racial disparities in the use of intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT, a high-precision method that can conform to the tumor to minimize damage to surrounding tissue. Because this technology comes with a higher price tag than traditional radiation, insurance companies usually require prior authorization. Researchers say this step impacts people of color in a profound way.
According to the research, Black, Hispanic and Asian patients were significantly more likely to have delays in starting treatment than white patients. Researchers also found that private insurance was associated with more timely treatment in white, Hispanic and Asian patients, but that Black patients with private insurance had longer delays than those with Medicare.
"Our previous work demonstrated that racial and ethnic disparities in the use of IMRT exist and are actually worsening over time," said Dr. Ryan Hutten, a physician researcher with the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, in a press release. "We know there are enormous consequences to treatment delays, and we know minority groups have inferior oncologic outcomes. This work helps to identify an actionable area to improve equity in delivery of advanced radiation treatments."
Hutten added that the research suggests that the disparity in wait times for Black patients may be exacerbated by the prior-authorization process required by many private insurance companies.
Although the role of prior authorization in privately insured patients was outside the scope of the study, researchers hope their study will spark further investigation into the fairness of prior authorization and denial for radiotherapy.
A follow-up project — which will collect more information about the authorization process for IMRT for Utah — was recently funded by the National Institute of Health. Hutten said the project "will allow us to better understand drivers of these observed inequities."