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What is "Medical Necessity"?

Updated: Mar 2

By Martine G. Brousse

"The Medical Bill Whisperer"

Patient Advocate, Certified Mediator



January 22, 2024



“Medical Necessity” affects your medical care at every level as well as your wallet.

Are you aware of what it means exactly?


It is based on a number of points of view. To keep it simple:





“Medical Necessity” is what your Dr or medical practitioner deem to be the necessary, appropriate, indicated, responsible steps needed now to establish a diagnosis and prescribe the safest, most effective course of treatment.


“Medical Necessity” is also what the physician has established as “best practice” under the circumstances: the same level of care as other professionals would undertake and prescribe in a similar situation.


“Medical Necessity” also means taking measures that follow the established “standard of care in the US”. For more on this topic, read my blog here.


In a nutshell, for your Dr, “Medical Necessity” is what your Dr has determined is the best and proven care he can prescribe, and that your health requires at that time.




“Medical Necessity”, for your insurance, is what the medical policy says.

A medical policy is a list of clinical guidelines which establish how and when your insurance holds itself responsible for payment of a certain drug, treatment, intervention, surgery or device.


The medical policy is used by the Utilization Department when reviewing a request for an authorization for services. If criteria are met, the approval is issued.

The medical policy will also be taken as “final say” in case of appeals.


The medical policy determines whether a service can be considered “medically necessary” or will be treated as “investigational or experimental” and therefore denied.


Think of it as a coverage road map. If the steps are met: right diagnosis, right circumstances, right medical history including previous treatments, and more, then the destination (authorization and/or payment) can be expected.


Medical policies are great advance notices and can definitely help medical providers anticipate what will be covered, how and when.



““Medical Necessity” can also mean the following to an insurance”:

·      Most cost-effective

·      Most conventional and traditional

·      Least invasive or least aggressive


For example, a proven but potentially less effective or more debilitating treatment will be approved instead of a more innovative, targeted but more expensive one.

A generic option will be preferred over a new expensive brand-name, even if the generic one is not as helpful.

A course (or more!) of pain management drugs will be authorized over a non-emergency surgical intervention.


That a medical policy is not updated yet, or that a new treatment has not gotten its own medical policy, should not be a valid reason to deny coverage or payment!





“Medical Necessity” is also established by federal health agencies, including the FDA, CDC, National Institute of Health, and National institute of Health to name the main ones.

They issue guidelines, which are understood to constitute the basis for “medical necessity”.


Web.MD and the national Cancer Institute may also become sources of documentation relating to what may constitute “medical necessity”, as does the National Library of Medicine.


Trials results, data from specific disease organizations, reports and recommendations from professional medical organizations and especially the American Medical Association, can also define “Medical necessity”.


Peer-reviewed articles and literature published in medical journals, (drug) manufacturers’ reports, data in Compendia are also good sources of information and evidence.


Last but not least: CMS. If Medicare covers it for the condition and/or under the circumstances, then commercial insurance plans should too.


D.   Right to appeal


For your insurance, it may alter treatment, force a specific (cheaper) option or even deny claims if “medical necessity” has not been justified with medical records and adherence to a medical policy.


As “Medical Necessity” is a fluid term, depending on who is defining it, it can be altered, updated or contested based on new evidence, published documentation and articles, updated guidelines and protocols, other insurers’ policies, medical opinions and articles by health agencies.


You and your medical provider have the right to appeal any rejection or denial (claim or authorization). Proving a medical policy is obsolete should help you win any appeal. So will showing that other carriers, and especially Medicare, consider it payable.


what is "Medical Necessity"?
what is "Medical Necessity"?


Martine Brousse was a long-time Billing Manager for Physicians before switching to the side of patients in 2013. The move has allowed her to apply her deep expertise and vast experience of the intricacies of resolving all types of medical bill and claim payment issues in ways that directly and positively impact her clientsʻ finances.


@martine brousse 2024  @ the medical bill whisperer 2024

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