Cost of LASIK: Types, Financing, Insurance
The cost of LASIK corrective eye surgery depends on a variety of factors. Insurance may or may not cover it, but some practitioners offer financing. There also may be ways to reduce the cost of the procedure. Here’s what to keep in mind when seeking LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis).
What Is LASIK Surgery?
LASIK first came into being in 1989 when an ophthalmologist, Gholam A. Peyman, was granted a patent on his procedure for the correction of vision. Eyeglasses and contact lenses work by bending, or refracting, light.
LASIK surgery instead reshapes the dome-shaped cornea by correcting for refraction and vision. LASIK surgery involves creating and pulling back a flap on the cornea and then using an excimer laser to reshape the tissue underneath before laying the flap back down.
A decade after LASIK’s invention, in 1999, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the procedure for the correction of vision issues such as nearsightedness. LASIK quickly overtook the surface excimer laser procedure photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), which was first performed in 1988 and involves using lasers on the surface of the cornea. PRK is still practiced.
While Dr. Peyman initially cut flaps with a device known as a microkeratome that had been developed 40 years earlier, it was the automation of this device that helped the procedure gain momentum. It made the flaps much more precise and reproducible.
When LASIK emerged, the cost of correcting nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism with this procedure was around $2,000 per eye. Following concerns that this price was a barrier for many, the cost decreased to about $1,600 per eye over the next few years.
These days, you can get customized LASIK in the United States for an average cost of around $2,246 per eye. Not all LASIK, however, is the same. The type of technology used for the procedure may influence the cost. Here’s what to know about the options.
The most budget-friendly option is conventional LASIK at an average cost of $1,500 per eye. With this option, the surgeon uses a microkeratome to mechanically create the flap. A standard excimer laser is then used to reshape the cornea.
While risks are low, this procedure can have higher risks than some of the newer methods, including glare. Other factors increase the risk of glare from conventional LASIK, such as pupil size, patient sensitivity, and any history of dry eye or other eye diseases. You need to be a good candidate to get this surgery.
Keep in mind that the lower fee here strictly covers the procedure itself, without any follow-up visits. Higher costs may result if you have a complication and follow-up visits typically are not included in the price of the initial fees.
Wavefront All-Laser LASIK
For this all-laser approach, the average cost is about $2,000 per eye. The flap cut in this procedure is made by a femtosecond laser. Before the corneal ablation is performed (gently removing the surface of the cornea and treating the refractive error on its front surface), an individualized map of the surface of your eye is made, then the cornea is reshaped with a wavefront-guided laser.
This laser shines infrared light into the eye and measures for other irregularities, in addition to sphere and cylinder, that can impair vision.
If the surgeon does not use the laser to cut the flap but still uses wavefront technology to reshape the cornea, the cost will be somewhere between the price of conventional and wavefront techniques.
This technology captures 22,000 separate images of your eye to guide in reshaping the surface. Typical technology relies on only 9,000 images. As a result, colors can be much more vibrant and textures much more nuanced after surgery. On average, this type of custom LASIK costs about $2,300 per eye.
Factors Affecting Cost:
- Degree of vision correction required
- Surgeon’s reputation, experience, and skill
- Type of laser technology used
Paying for LASIK doesn’t necessarily have to be made in one lump sum. In some cases, you may be able to get funding through a finance company.
The amount of time you have to pay back this financing will vary by the type of loan. Some plans may require you to make your payments over a short three-month period. While others may allow you to stretch these payments out as long as five years.
You can usually apply for such financing the same way you would any other loan: by contacting a company, filling out the appropriate paperwork, and supplying the necessary identification, either in person or electronically. It may even be possible to secure such financing online with extremely rapid approval, sometimes even within minutes.
In addition to outside financing options, some surgeons themselves may offer financing directly through their office. It pays to check what’s available. This may allow you to make payments over several years without extra charges.
Even if installment payments are not available, do see if the surgeon’s office has a finance company it prefers to work with. Also, be prepared to make your payments on time. Missing payments may result in costly repercussions.
While it may be tempting to consider the super discounted LASIK rates seen in some advertisements, keep in mind the following:
- Most people are not eligible for the rate offered due to the extent or type of correction needed.
- There may be additional charges for things usually bundled into the cost that are not included here, such as office visits, disposable surgical materials, or facility fees, which can bump up the cost to as much as, if not more than, the average amount.
- Older, less-accurate equipment may be used.
- LASIK re-treatments, which may be necessary if your result isn’t perfect, may not be covered in inexpensive LASIK procedures, resulting in additional expense.
In most cases, a vision plan will not cover LASIK since this is considered a cosmetic, elective procedure. But if there is a medical reason for undergoing LASIK, such as an inability to wear glasses or contacts or it is needed due to a prior ineffective surgery or injury, the procedure may be covered.
Also, in select cases, it may sometimes be covered, at least in part. Some larger insurance carriers may offer discounts of around 50% when LASIK is performed by an in-network provider. If it is performed out of network, a smaller discount may be available.
Ways to Reduce LASIK Costs
To make LASIK more affordable:
- Check to see what your insurance policy might provide, especially with in-network doctors.
- See if you can use pretax funds in a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending arrangement (FSA) for the procedure.
- Look into financing options that would allow you to pay for LASIK over time.
Use Your FSA or HSA
Some people rely on funds from their flexible spending arrangement (FSA, also called a flexible spending account) to help pay for LASIK. This type of account is an arrangement made with your employer to deduct a certain portion of your paycheck to be used for out-of-pocket healthcare costs. The good news is this is pretax income.
However, keep in mind you can only contribute up to $2,750 to the account annually, which may be less than what’s needed to get LASIK surgery in both eyes.
For those who have a high-deductible health insurance plan through an employer, it may be possible to build up the funds needed for LASIK in a health savings account (HSA). This allows you to contribute tax-free funds to the account, with an annual cap in 2021 of $3,600 per individual.
The good news is you can keep the money in the account and add to it the next year, making it possible to fund an average LASIK procedure this way.
Whichever financing arrangement you choose, it’s most important to research and select a reputable eye doctor skilled in determining if you are a good candidate for LASIK. This can reduce expenses related to complications.