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Want to see life’s little details without relying on your glasses or contact lenses? Well, laser eye surgery might be your ticket to clear vision.

Here, we’ll break down what laser surgery is, how much it costs and whether Medicare and private health insurance covers this type of surgery.

What is laser eye surgery?

Laser eye surgery is a medical procedure where an ophthalmologist (a specialist eye surgeon) uses a computer-controlled excimer laser to reshape the surface of your eye to correct or improve eyesight issues, like:

  • Short-sightedness (also called myopia), where the eye doesn’t focus light correctly, making distant objects look blurred.1
  • Long-sightedness (also called hyperopia), where you can see objects in the distance better than closeup objects.2
  • Astigmatism, a refractive error where the front surface of your eye is more oblong than round, resulting in blurred vision.3

According to healthdirect, the Australian Government’s health resource, laser eye surgery can also treat health-related conditions, like eye diseases and some cases of age-related macular degeneration (the macular is the part of the retina at the back of your eye).4 Depending on your treatment, the surgery may take around 10-20 minutes per eye.

Who’s suitable for laser eye?

You typically need to:

  • Be over 18
  • Have a normal cornea (e.g. not thin or abnormally-shaped cornea)
  • Not suffer from very dry eyes
  • Not have any condition that affects healing
  • Have a stable eyeglass prescription, not one that changes often
  • Not have an autoimmune disease
  • Avoid activities that pose a risk to your eyes (e.g. contact sports for some types of laser eye surgeries) 4

Types of laser eye surgeries

Laser eye surgery is an umbrella term used to describe different types of refractive surgery, each of which involves different treatment techniques and are better suited to different eye conditions. Some common types of laser eye surgery are:

LASIK eye surgery

LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) eye surgery is a type of laser vision correction where a surgeon uses a laser to create a thin flap of superficial cornea, which they then fold back.5 The surgeon uses the laser to reshape your corneal tissue to treat your eye condition. Afterwards, the surgeon places the cornea flap back down, which adheres itself naturally.

This type of treatment is helpful for those with short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism. If your surgeon deems your corneas too thin or irregularly shaped, you may not be suitable for LASIK.

PRK eye surgery

PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), sometimes referred to as ASLA (advanced surface laser), is a laser eye surgery procedure where the surgeon removes the layer of cells covering your cornea.5 The surgeon then uses the laser to reshape your cornea to correct your eye condition, before applying a type of bandage contact lens to your eye to help it heal.

PRK is typically used to treat short- and long-sightedness as well as astigmatism. Your surgeon might also recommend PRK if your corneas are unusually shaped or if you suffer from dry eyes.

SMILE eye surgery

SMILE (small incision lenticular extraction) eye surgery is where the surgeon creates a lenticule – a tissue disc – inside your cornea.5 The surgeon then removes this disc through a tiny incision in your cornea. This bladeless procedure might suit patients who aren’t suitable for LASIK. The quicker cornea healing time also means you may be able to return to certain activities, like contact sports, sooner.

ICL eye surgery

During ICL (implantable collamer or contact lens) eye surgery, a surgeon makes a small incision in the surface of your eye before they insert a soft lens behind your iris (which sits in front of your natural lens).5 The opening in your cornea will seal on its own.

The lens is designed to remain in your eye, but you can have a surgeon remove it if you wish.

This type of surgery may be useful for those who aren’t suitable for other types of laser eye surgeries. You might find that surgeons recommend ICL eye surgery if you have a high prescription or an abnormally-shaped or thin cornea.

Your surgeon will tell you which type of surgery best suits your eyes and condition. Some surgeons might even recommend against surgery if they think that’s the best option for you.

How much does laser eye surgery cost in Australia?

The cost of laser eye surgery depends on the type of procedure you need. We’ve looked at several Australian clinics and provided price ranges based on our findings to give you an idea of how much you might pay for each type of treatment.

Keep in mind that the below prices are only a guide to give you an idea of the average cost of these treatments. They are subject to change, and your treatment may fall outside of these dollar ranges, depending on your circumstances and your surgeon.

Laser eye surgery cost in Australia
Type of laser eye surgeryPotential cost range per eye
LASIK$2,200 – $3,600
PRK$2,400 – $3,400
SMILE$3,300 – $3,700
ICL$4,700 – $6,200

Other laser eye surgery costs to be aware of

Aside from the procedure cost, there may be additional expenses for laser eye procedures, like:

  • Initial consultation. Although some practices offer a free consultation to gauge your eligibility for laser eye surgery, others may charge a fee for this.
  • Aftercare follow-up appointments. After your surgery, you’ll typically need to go back to the clinic for check-ups to ensure your eyes are healing well and to ask any questions you may have. You may need to visit the day after surgery, as well a few months down the track.
  • Enhancement surgery. After your initial surgery, you may require an enhancement surgery to fine-tune your vision. This procedure may come at an extra cost to you, so it’s a good idea to ask your surgeon about the likelihood of needing it.

Some laser eye clinics offer packages where the surgery and other related costs (e.g. follow-up appointments) are included in the price they quote you. Sometimes, the quoted figure doesn’t account for the total cost of your laser treatment. It’s also worth asking your clinic about their available payment options, as you may be able to set up a payment plan to help ease the cost of surgery.

Read through these helpful questions to ask before you book treatment.

Is laser eye surgery worth it in the longer term?

A great way to know if laser eye surgery is financially worth it long term is to compare the costs you’d spend on glasses and contact lenses against total treatment costs.

To give you an idea of how you might like to weigh up costs, check out our example below.

Example: Cost of glasses and contacts vs LASIK eye surgery

man-with-contact-lenses
Jeremy wears one-use soft contact lenses when he’s not wearing his prescription glasses. Each year, he purchases three packs of 90 lenses, which equates to around $300. He also spends about $60 on eyedrops over a year that he uses while wearing his contact lenses.

So, Jeremy spends about $360 on contacts products each year.

He also wears prescription glasses and tends to purchase a new pair of glasses every two years at around $150 each.

Jeremy’s also been weighing up LASIK eye surgery costs against the cost of his glasses and contacts. After a consultation where he was quoted $5,600 for both of his eyes, he started crunching the numbers.

He realised that over 13 years, he would spend more on glasses and contacts combined ($5,655) than the cost of LASIK.

Jeremy would prefer to see clearly without the hassle of contact lenses or glasses, so he feels the upfront cost of surgery is worth it in the long-term for his circumstances.

Frequently asked questions

Is laser eye surgery covered by Medicare?

No, Medicare doesn’t typically cover laser eye surgery, since it’s considered a cosmetic procedure (i.e. you want to remove your need for glasses). However, if you have a certain eye disease and require medically necessary treatment, the cost of your surgery may be covered or subsidised.

If your doctor says you require medically necessary treatment, ask them if Medicare will subsidise your treatment and if any expenses you incur will be covered.

Does private health insurance cover laser eye surgery?

Hospital policies don’t cover laser eye surgeries, though some policies provide cover for medically necessary procedures like cataract surgery.

Top-level extras policies may offer some cover for laser eye surgery. However, you’ll need to check with your health fund to see if they cover the procedure and if so, how much of the cost will be covered by your policy.

Where do you go for laser eye surgery?

You typically go to a private laser eye clinic for treatment; your eye doctor may recommend or even refer you to one. Before booking in for treatment, you might like to call up or visit a few clinics to compare your options and surgeons’ opinions.

Questions to ask before you have laser eye surgery

To help ensure you understand a little more about what you can expect from your surgery, both for treatment and costs, it’s a good idea to ask as many questions as you can. Some of these include:

  • What are the risks involved in the treatment?
  • How much will the treatment cost me (including all appointments, medication and potential enhancement treatment)?
  • How long will it take for me to recover?
  • Are there any potential side effects? If so, what?
  • Will I need to wear glasses or contacts after my surgery?
  • Will I need to rely on medication long-term after the surgery (e.g. eye drops)?
  • Can I go about my usual day-to-day activities after surgery?
  • What can’t I do after the surgery?
  • What’s not included in the quote you’ve provided me?

Anthony Fleming, General Manager

Top tips for laser eye surgery from Anthony Fleming, General Manager for Health Insurance at Compare the Market

  1. The benefits from laser eye surgery do come at a cost. With Medicare not offering any benefits for this type of treatment, it’s not something everyone can afford, so ensure you are fully aware of the associated costs prior to treatment.
  2. There are health funds that offer some coverage for laser eye surgery. Keep in mind that these benefits are usually on the higher levels of coverage, apply waiting periods and don’t always cover the full cost of the procedure. So, take the time to crunch the numbers to help decide if health cover is right for you.
  3. Do your research on the specialist, their clinic and which type of surgery will best suit your needs before locking it in.

Do you need laser eye surgery?

If you have an extras policy, check with your insurer before booking your appointment to see if they’ll provide any cover for laser eye surgery.

If you don’t have an extras policy, or your policy doesn’t include cover for laser surgery, you might want to find one that does at a price that’s kind to your budget. Try comparing extras policies through our free comparison tool. In just minutes, you can compare policy cover and premiums from some of Australia’s top insurers.

Sources

1 healthdirect. ‘Short-sightedness (myopia)’. Last reviewed September 2021. Accessed April 2022.

2 healthdirect. ‘Long-sightedness (hyperopia). Last reviewed September 2021. Accessed April 2022.

3 healthdirect. ‘Astigmatism’. Last reviewed August 2020. Accessed April 2022.

4 healthdirect. ‘Laser eye surgery’. Last reviewed March 2020. Accessed April 2022.

5 lasik.com.au. Eye Treatment Options. Accessed April 2022.

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