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. It’s used to correct or improve eyesight issues like:
- Short-sightedness (myopia), where the eye doesn’t focus light correctly, making distant objects look blurred.1
- Long-sightedness (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 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.
Before you can receive laser eye surgery, you will need to book an appointment to assess your suitability for the procedure. To be eligible, 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 laser eye surgeries)4
Expert tips for laser eye surgery costs
Our health expert, Lana Hambilton, has some tips on how to get laser eye surgery without breaking the bank.
Keep an eye out for out-of-pocket-costs
The benefits of laser eye surgery do come at a cost. Since Medicare doesn’t typically contribute towards this type of treatment, you will be required to pay the full cost unless you hold an eligible extras policy. Even then, you are likely to have out-of-pocket expenses so ensure you are fully aware of the associated costs prior to treatment.
Consider cover through extras
There are health funds that will pay a benefit towards laser eye surgery on some of their extras policies. Keep in mind that these benefits are usually on the higher levels of health cover, involve waiting periods and don’t always cover the full cost of the procedure.
Do your research
Do your research on the specialist, their clinic and which type of surgery will best suit your needs before locking it in. If you are planning to take out an eligible extras policy to help with the cost, it is a good idea to do so early as laser eye surgery can carry a significant waiting period.
Types of laser eye surgery
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, they place the cornea flap back down, which adheres itself naturally.
LASIK laser eye surgery is helpful for those with short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism. However, 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 contact lens that acts like a bandage to help your eye heal.
PRK is typically used to treat short- or long-sightedness and astigmatisms. Your surgeon might also recommend PRK if your corneas are unusually-shaped or you suffer from dry eyes.
ReLEx eye surgery
ReLEx (Refractive Lenticule 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.
Laser eye surgery costs
How much does laser eye surgery cost in Australia?
The cost of laser eye surgery without insurance 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 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.
|Average cost of laser eye surgery without insurance|
|Type of laser eye surgery*||Potential cost range per eye6|
|LASIK||$2,200 – $4,000|
|PRK||$1,700 – $3,400|
|ReLEx||$2,750 – $4,300|
|ICL||$2,750 – $6,200|
|* Types of laser eye surgery are grouped into comparable procedures. Treatments will differ between laser eye surgery providers. Talk to your provider for the full details.|
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. You may need a referral from your GP or eye care specialist (e.g. optometrist) to get a free consultation.
- 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.
- 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.
- Medication. You may be required to take eye drops or an analgesic (e.g. ibuprofen or paracetamol) as part of your recovery. While some providers may send you home with these medications at no cost, other may require you to buy your own.
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, though, the quoted figure doesn’t account for the total cost of your laser treatment. It’s also worth asking your eye care clinic about their available payment options, as you may be able to set up a payment plan to help ease the cost of surgery.
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.
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.
Is laser eye surgery worth it in the long 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
Jeremy wears single-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 $450. He also spends about $60 on eyedrops over a year that he uses while wearing his contact lenses.
So, Jeremy spends about $510 on contacts and associated products each year.
He also wears prescription glasses and tends to purchase a new pair of glasses every two years at around $175 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 $4,400 for both of his eyes, he started crunching the numbers.
He realised that over 8 years, he would spend more on glasses and contacts combined ($4,780) than the cost of LASIK.
Jeremy would prefer to see clearly without the hassle of contact lenses or glasses, so he feels the upfront surgery cost is worth it in the long term for his circumstances.
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 contact a few clinics to compare your options and surgeons’ opinions.
Questions to ask before 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 me to recover?
- What are the potential side effects?
- 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. eyedrops)?
- 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?
Meet our health insurance expert, Lana Hambilton
As Head of Health, Life, and Income Protection Insurance at Compare the Market, Lana Hambilton is passionate about simplifying the comparison process and educating Australians about the value and benefits private health insurance can offer and the critical role it plays in our medical system. She firmly believes that health insurance provides choice in one of the most important aspects of life – our health – and has experienced countless cases over the years where peace of mind comes through the ability to choose when, where, and who will treat you.
Lana has 15 years’ experience in the health insurance and insurance comparison industries. She’s also a Board Member of the Private Health Insurance Intermediaries Association.
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