Guide to laser eye surgery

Most people are happy with the results of their laser eye surgery.
 
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  • Updated:3 Apr 2007
 

02.Expectations and costs

What to expect

Most people will see better after laser eye surgery, but there’s no guarantee you’ll no longer need glasses or contact lenses.

  • Slightly to moderately short-sighted people have the best chances of success, with more than 90% achieving 6/12 vision and many 6/6 vision or better. A person with 6/12 vision — the legal requirement for driving in many Australian states — can see at six metres what a person with normal vision can see at 12. The old term for normal vision was 20/20 vision, referring to feet instead of metres.
  • People with worse short- or long-sightedness can still benefit from the surgery, but might have to temper their expectations.
  • Although astigmatism can be treated as well, its type and severity will affect results.
    So keep your expectations realistic — no surgery can guarantee you can throw away your glasses. In fact, you’re very likely to need reading glasses anyway as you get older, as laser eye surgery won’t prevent the onset of the age-related vision problem presbyopia. (It won’t speed it up either, though it might become more noticeable after surgery.)

As Georgia’s story shows, her expectations seem to have been a key point in how happy she was with the results of her surgery. It didn’t leave her free of glasses but greatly reduced her dependence on them. So if you’re aware of the surgery’s limitations and the potential complications and risks it entails, and you’re still convinced it’ll improve your lifestyle, laser vision correction might well be worth the thousands of dollars it’ll cost you.

The costs

The cost of laser eye surgery varies, depending on the type of procedure and the technology used. The clinics we consulted — some of which offer interest-free loans — charge between $1500 to $3700 (on average $2500) per eye. This is in line with what you told us you paid for your surgery over the last few years, mostly without any contribution from a health fund.

"It’s the best money I’ve ever spent … Unfortunately, I was unable to claim a cent through my health fund [as] it’s considered cosmetic surgery. I’m unhappy about this as I won’t be claiming either glasses or contact lenses ever again." (Shelley, WA)

Health fund contributions

  • Five of the six major health funds we contacted confirmed they pay no benefit for laser eye surgery to correct vision (NIB, HBF, HCF, MEDIBANK PRIVATE, MBF); only one of the ones we contacted (HBA) covers it, with some conditions. (Smaller, industry-specific health funds such as Defence Health and Teachers’ Federation Health Fund may also give some rebates.)

Medicare benefits

  • Medicare pays no benefit for most laser eye surgery either — only if it’s required to treat certain eye diseases. Otherwise it’s seen as cosmetic, as it’s generally done to eliminate your need to wear glasses.
  • In something of a contradiction, however, the Australian Tax Office regards the surgery not purely as cosmetic, as it’s changing the eye’s function, not its appearance. It’s therefore still a claimable expense for the medical benefit tax offset (which pays for 20% of your net medical expenses above $1500).
 

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