In the olden days—meaning, before the very late ‘90s — people without perfect vision had two basic choices for dealing with their sight problems: eyeglasses or contact lenses. Both came with benefits and drawbacks, but neither solved the essential problem, allowing the four-eyed among us to function without corrective lenses.
Then, Lasik was approved in the United States. By 2011, over 11 million Americans with myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism (blurred vision), had laser eye surgery, according to CRST Europe. The surgery, which corrects vision problems due to refractive errors by reshaping the cornea, offers a life without lenses for many patients who undergo it.
But, it’s not without risk — or expense.
How Much Lasik Costs, Out of Pocket
As with all medical procedures, your price tag for Lasik surgery will vary, depending on your location, doctor, and type of vision or medical insurance. On average, however, Lasik cost between $2,100 and $2,200 per eye in 2014, according to All About Vision, which notes that patients who would need surgery for both eyes should double the cost to get an accurate estimate (no bulk discount here).
Does Insurance Cover Lasik?
In most cases, Lasik is considered elective surgery, similar to a cosmetic surgery — which means that many insurance companies won’t cover the costs. Lasik.com reports that some vision plans negotiate discounted rates with providers, but the majority of patients should be prepared to pay out of pocket for most or all of their Lasik surgery.
The exceptions to this rule are rare, and involve a lot of negotiating with insurance — but if your job requires you to have perfect vision (think active military in certain roles), or you have trouble tolerating lenses for medical reasons, you might be able to persuade your insurance company to cover the surgery.
Can Lasik Save Me Money in the Long Run?
Lasik providers often advertise their services by comparing the cost of surgery versus the cost of glasses and/or contact lenses over the course of a lifetime. The trouble with this comparison is that the very patients who are best suited for Lasik are also the ones likely to spend the least on lenses; the ideal Lasik patient is one with a stable prescription, among other characteristics.
If you’re willing to stick with eyeglasses, and don’t feel the need to upgrade your frames every year, it would probably take you a very long time to spend enough money on glasses to make Lasik a better financial alternative. In addition, most vision plans kick in for new glasses every year or two, further reducing the cost of simply sticking it out.
That said, there’s a certain priceless appeal to being able to see without assistance. And contact lenses are a different story. If you wear contacts, even the savings offered by vision insurance probably won’t completely offset your costs. And if you don’t have insurance, your annual expenses could be quite steep: Very Well estimates yearly costs for daily disposable contact lenses at $440 to $760. At that rate, you could “pay” for your Lasik procedure in saved contact lenses costs in about a decade.
Other Variables to Consider
Of course, the problem is that there’s no guarantee that your Lasik results will hold up for a decade—or even that you’ll wind up with perfect vision for any length of time after the procedure.
About 5% of patients reported being dissatisfied with the results of their Lasik surgery, according to an NPR piece from a few years ago. Further, WedMD says that “most patients enjoy improved (not necessarily perfect) vision without their old glasses” — meaning that you could go through the expense and effort of getting laser surgery, only to wind up still needing your glasses after it’s through.
Beyond that, as with any surgery, there are risks (they’re shooting a laser at your eyeball, after all). The FTC cautions that Lasik might not be suitable for patients with dry eye or conditions like glaucoma, lupus, diabetes, or certain diseases of the eye.