Why does LASIK cost so much if it takes so little time to complete?
I want you to have a clear answer to this question from inside the world of refractive surgery. You deserve to know where your money goes. So, I’m going to pull back the curtain and show you everything you wanted to know about the price of LASIK. (Read Time: 6 min.)
In the United States, the average car costs $30,000 but only lasts 6.5 years. A few times per day, we prove we get value getting from place to place without a horse. We value it enough to spend $300-$500 per month for 72 months, only to do it all over again.
Either we hate the idea of saddle burn, or the convenience of an air-conditioned ride to and from work makes us spend a lot of money on a depreciating hunk of metal.
Mobile phones also lure you to shell out $900 for the latest model only to find yourself frustrated when a new version will be released in two weeks.
The same holds true for pre-ordered game consoles and video games, smart TVs and other trendy electronics, seasonal designer clothes and accessories, and beauty products that do not really defy natural aging. These items all lose their value as soon as they get to your hands.
But this should NOT be the case for your eyes.
Your eyes allow you to experience the world every moment they’re open. Not surprisingly, we find most people value their eyesight. Patients coming in for a LASIK consult say things like, “my contacts are not fun at the beach” and “I need my eyes for my job.” (Yes, that’s a real quote we hear week to week.)
I suggest a few things in life are not worth “going cheap.” I have a do-not-try-to-save-money-on-these-items list, and it includes eye surgery and parachutes. I’m going to show you why at least the first item should make your list. If you’d like to gamble on a parachute, then the rest of this story may not be as helpful to you.
What affects LASIK prices?
I’ll demystify the price of LASIK procedure for you. But when I finish, you may try to pay your surgeon more, so continue reading at your own risk.
Eye Surgeon's Education and Training
Your surgery started many years ago on that surgeon’s first day of Medical School. The years of extra education he or she pushed through, for the chance to help you this week, piles up over $100,000 in debt. The equipment to make sure you get the best result possible costs a gnat’s hair shy of a million dollars. Before hiring clinic and patient care staff to grace the halls, your surgeon’s new practice bank account is negative $1,000,000 and counting… backward.
Laser Technology affects the Cost of LASIK too
The lasers used to reshape your cornea can alter tissue measured in microns at speeds measured in femtoseconds. For reference, the average human hair is about 100 microns thick.
The miraculous excimer laser used to correct your vision is precise enough to write on a human hair and the “femto” laser preparing your cornea for treatment is emitting pulses of light measured in femtoseconds, aka one-millionth of one-billionth of a second. It allows the accuracy of laser placement to be +/- 0.3 microns. To get a sense for how “micro” a micron is, check this out. Mind-blowing, right?
Vision-correcting lasers aren’t cheap. The contracts to buy them work similar to your cell phone agreement. That new iPhone X that already costs you $1,000 is useless unless you pay the monthly minutes and data fee. It’s similar to refractive lasers, except there is a fee for every, single-use. Each time your surgeon uses one of those modern miracles on your vision, it costs around $200.
So, if you are doing the mental math, that’s two eyes and two lasers each or $800 per patient. (Wonder why some practices still use a blade or old technology?) The only exceptions are the old lasers that don’t have a per use (“click”) fee. There are still a few around, but there are also a few StarTAC flip phones in existence, I assume.
A perfect technological marvel built specifically to laser eye surgery is no more than a giant, expensive paperweight if no one knows it can help them see well. Patient education and marketing expenses are necessary costs for your refractive surgeon. It’s expensive to communicate that LASIK can actually fix astigmatism and provide functional near and distance vision. For high-tech, high-touch, specialty refractive practices, the cost to help someone with glasses or contacts (you) find the front door is between $500 and $1,000.
After you find the front door, go through your consult, and hear the beautiful words, “You are a candidate for LASIK,” your excitement is only trumped by your internal budgetary reflex (IBR). I’m not sure if that is an actual medical term.
I just coined it, but I assure you it’s as real as the yearly physical, below the kneecap “orange triangle hammer reflex” (also a newly-minted term). The only difference is you reach to protect your wallet instead of involuntarily practice your hacky sack skills.
Wait, why do I have to pay all of these fees for LASIK treatment?
So, you're thinking you have an idea of the price, and you hear five thou… (IBR)…everything after that sounds like a YouTube video slowed to 50% speed. You thought the number started with a two or three; I mean maybe four, but five? Some of you may even think I mean “hundred” because of the volume of discount LASIK marketing messages played over and over.
That’s fair. You don’t get LASIK every day so how would you know how much it costs when you hear “as low as two hundred and whatever per eye” on the radio? My hope is this breakdown will help you understand why quality LASIK isn’t “cheap.”
The best answer I ever heard to the question came from one of our surgeons. When asked why LASIK costs so much if it only takes 15 minutes, he responded, “It costs so much because it only takes 15 minutes.”
That’s it. That’s the answer. It sums it up in one sentence.
Now, with the context for these numbers, let’s look at why quality LASIK can cost over $5,000.
Approximate Costs to Perform Bilateral LASIK on One Person:
- Patient Education: $400
- Patient Communication (web, chat, text, email, etc.): $400
- Consult Team: $150
- Operational Expense: $700
- Raw Facility Costs: $125
- Raw Material Procedure Costs: $1,000
- Laser Maintenance Fee: $50
- LASIK Team Costs (not including surgeon): $200
- Administrative Prep Costs: $125
- Post-operative Visits (1 day, 1 wk, 1 mo.): $150
- Equipment Costs (financing current technology): $450
- Surgeon's Fee: $300-$500
Costs to Practice: $4,050-$4,250*
*This does not include general repairs, staff training, executive staff, administrative technology and office equipment, electronic medical records software, finance fees so patients can pay 0% interest, enhancement procedures… etc.
There are a lot of costs that I mentioned here and it's normal to wonder why it amounts to this much. Here's something that you should remember when committing to LASIK: you're paying good money for your health.
Think about it. There's no price tag that you can put on not having to wear your eyeglasses anymore. Plus, you regain your vision that you so deserve. Wake up to a fresh morning while seeing things clearly. Read hardbound non-fiction before going to sleep without your spectacles on. The satisfaction is just priceless.
Here's good advice for you: list all your questions before coming to your eye doctor's clinic. In this way, you'll be capable of assessing whether his or her reputation lives up to her credibility as a medical practitioner. Knowing that one's expertise will keep you in good hands from consultation to post-operative care will definitely give you peace of mind.
If that doesn't justify the costs, I don't know what else can convince you.
But the cost is much cheaper in some LASIK clinics.
As I've mentioned above, LASIK can never be cheap. But that doesn't mean it's not affordable. Here are my two cents:
Your eye doctor promises you a bargain for the procedure. It's a cheap deal to fix your astigmatism, you say. But there are three things that will surprise you at the end of the surgery. First, you'd feel cheated after the doctor informs you that the price on the ad is only for mild astigmatism and your case demands double or triple than the click-bait price.
Second, there are hidden costs that weren't included during your consultation so your total bill balloons to 5 times the initial quotation that was presented to you. In the end, you’d be frustrated over the expenses that continue to add up.
Third, you'd still end up finding a reliable eye doctor during your post-surgery. That’s because your previous doctor has not done a good job at correcting your vision. Prepare to break your piggy bank because you'll end up paying double.
Given these risks, you may proceed to have these so-called bargain LASIK surgeries if you insist. As they say, if it sounds too good to be true, well then it probably is.
What are the costs of NOT having LASIK surgery?
It's easy to hear from folks how expensive LASIK is and why you should just stick to your eyeglasses or contact lenses instead. However, not having your LASIK surgery will eventually cost you more money in the long-term. Why? It's simple: spread the total cost of LASIK (even add the repeat treatments later on) over your expected lifetime.
Here's a simple computation for you.
On average, you spend around $75 per box on daily disposable contact lenses. That's about 8 boxes per year, making your annual expense at $600. If you stick to it for the next 40 years, you'll spend around $24,000 (with no adjustment for inflation)!
Even if you use the cheap two-week disposables, it'll still be not worth it -- $8,000 for a product you won't be satisfied. That's 40 years of follow-up visits to your doctor to maintain your eye health, faithful observance of cleaning regimen, and exposure to allergic reactions, conjunctivitis, corneal irritation, eyelid infection, and dry eyes!
Depending on how much you pay for your LASIK surgery, you can recoup your expenses in a matter of years. Plus, you won't be required these days to pay upfront and top dollar when your doctor offers a convenient payment plan.
And believe me, there's no price attached to the satisfaction of not being dependent on eyeglasses or contact lenses anymore. With your vision getting corrected right after surgery with no numbing pain, it’s the best investment you could give to yourself.
Will my insurance pay for my LASIK treatment?
The straightforward answer is, "No." Most insurance companies treat LASIK as elective surgery. However, if your insurance coverage will pay a portion of the costs, Hunter Vision welcomes such an arrangement to ease your costs. You can read more about LASIK and insurance by clicking my previous post below:
LASIK Cost in Orlando, Florida
So after a thorough discussion about the price of LASIK, the question remains: Can I afford a LASIK procedure?
The long-term benefits and relative advantage of LASIK over other treatments definitely outweigh the financial costs. No doubt that it is a great personal investment but paying out-of-pocket is something that's far from your mind when managing costs.
The good news, however, is that eye surgery cost in Orlando, Florida is now more affordable with a payment plan tailored to your tight budget.
At Hunter Vision, we fully understand the value of taking care of your eyes without expensive treatment procedures. You get expert care from one of Florida's best eye doctors BUT without asking you to dig a hole in your pocket through our payment plan.
Your eyes are too important to try to save a few dollars. Go somewhere that charges enough for you to be comfortable throughout the process.
We see far too many patients who tried to save a few dollars elsewhere end up here to see if we can fix what the other guys did. Most of our patients pay a bit over $130 per month at 0% interest for 24 months to change their whole world. I’d love to see you here, but I care way more than the place you choose is giving you all you deserve. “You get what you pay for” is still a universal principle. Please save the money on something else. Maybe you could just get a horse?
Author: Joel Hunter, MD is an Ophthalmologist, Refractive Surgeon, and the Founder of Hunter Vision, a LASIK Orlando Clinic in Florida. A recognized and respected specialist in vision correction who has performed a countless number of refractive surgeries, Joel gives lectures across the country and trains fellow doctors in the newest LASIK surgery techniques.