You’ve been diagnosed with a cataract and you’ve been told you should have cataract surgery. The surgeon is also telling you that you should consider paying extra out-of-pocket for it.

Where did this come from? Why should you have to pay out-of-pocket for cataract surgery? Shouldn’t your health insurance just cover it?

In trying to answer these questions, you will first need a little history of both cataract and refractive surgery, which corrects errors of refraction such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.

Radial keratotomy (RK) was the first widely used refractive surgery for nearsightedness. It was invented in 1974 by Russian ophthalmologist Svyatoslav Fyodorov, and it was the primary refractive procedure done until the mid-1990s. Then it was surpassed by the laser procedure called PRK and then, eventually, LASIK; they are still the predominately pure refractive surgeries done today.

Cataract surgery has its origins all the way back to at least 800 BC in a procedure called couching. In this procedure, the cataract was pushed into the back of the eye with a sharp instrument so the person could look around the cataract. Medically that is all that was done with cataracts until around 1784 when a cataract was actually removed from the eye.

The next big advance was implants to replace the removed cataract. The invention of implants was spurred by Harold Ridley, who recognized that injured Royal Air Force pilots could retain shards of their canopy made out of a substance called PMMA in their eye without the body rejecting it. Implants became commonplace after the FDA approved them in 1981. The implants have improved over the years and most implants today are foldable, enabling them to fit through tiny incisions of around 3 millimeters.

Medicare and most other insurances cover the cost of MEDICALLY NECESSARY cataract surgery. This means they will cover the surgery when someone has symptoms of visual trouble that is interfering with their normal daily activities AND the cataract is the cause of those visual disturbances. There is no reason to remove a cataract just because it is there. It needs to be causing a problem to make it medically necessary to remove it.

Medicare and most other insurance do not cover refractive surgery (LASIK, PRK, etc.). The general perception of refractive surgery by the insurance industry is that it is not MEDICALLY NECESSARY. You can correct the refractive errors in almost all cases by non-surgical means, such as glasses an/ or contact lenses.

Today there are methods of doing additional procedures, or using special implants, at the time of cataract surgery to correct more than just the cataract alone. This is where the two types of surgeries, refractive and cataract, have merged into a single operation that tries to take care of both problems.

The merging of cataract and refractive surgeries is why there are now options to not only get your cataract removed, but also to correct your astigmatism (irregular shape to cornea) and/or presbyopia (the inability to see well up close that hits nearly everyone in their 40’s).

This is where the "paying for cataract surgery" comes in. Surgery to correct astigmatism and presbyopia are not considered MEDICALLY NECESSARY because they can be corrected with eyeglasses or contacts.

Your cataract, once it hits a certain point, cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts and therefore it is MEDICALLY NECESSARY and your insurance will pay for that component of your surgery. What it won’t pay for is any additional amount that is charged to correct your astigmatism or presbyopia.

If you want to address your astigmatism and/or presbyopia at the time of cataract surgery in order to be less dependent on wearing glasses after surgery, then paying for those components is going to be an out-of-pocket payment for you.

 

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

This blog provides general information and discussion about eye health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician. The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ.

Just like adults, children need to have their eyes examined. This need begins at birth and continues through adulthood.

Following are common recommendations for when a child needs to be screened, and what is looked for at each stage.

A child’s first eye exam should be done either right at or shortly after birth. This is especially true for children who were born prematurely and have a very low birth weight and may need to be given oxygen. This is mainly done to screen for a disease of the retina called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), in which the retina does not develop properly as a result of the child receiving high levels of oxygen. Although rarer today due to the levels being monitored more closely, it is still a concern for premature babies.

The next time an eye exam is in order is around 6 months. At this stage, your pediatric eye doctor will check your child’s basic visual abilities by making them look at lights, respond to colors, and be able to follow a moving object.

Your child’s ocular alignment will also be measured to ensure that he or she does not have strabismus, a constant inward or outward turning of one or both eyes. Parents are encouraged to look for these symptoms at home because swift intervention with surgery to align the eyes at this stage is crucial for their ocular and visual development.

It is also imperative for parents and medical professionals to be on the lookout for retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eye that more commonly affects young children than adults. At home, this might show up in a photo taken with a flash, where the reflection in the pupil is white rather than red. Other symptoms can include eye pain, eyes not moving in the same direction, pupils always being wide open, and irises of different colors. While these symptoms can be caused by other things, having a doctor check them immediately is important because early treatment can save your child’s sight, but advanced cases can lead to vision loss and possibly death if the cancer spreads.

After the 6-month exam, I usually recommend another exam around age 5, then yearly afterward. There are several reasons for this gap. First, any parent with a 2- to 4-year-old knows that it’s difficult for them to sit still for anything, let alone an eye exam. Trying to examine this young of a patient can be frustrating for the doctor, the parent, and the child. Nobody wins. By age 5, children are typically able to respond to questions and can (usually) concentrate on the task at hand. If necessary at this stage, their eyes will be measured for a prescription for glasses and checked for amblyopia, commonly known as a “lazy eye”. Detected early enough, amblyopia can be treated properly under close observation by the eye doctor.

The recommendations listed above are solely one doctor’s opinion of when children should have eye exams. The various medical bodies in pediatrics, ophthalmology, and optometry have different guidelines regarding exam frequency, but agree that while it is not essential that a healthy child’s eyes be examined every year, those with a personal or family history of inheritable eye disease should be followed more closely.

Article contributed by Dr. Jonathan Gerard

NOTE: Many eye doctors commonly like to have another exam around age 3, in order to make sure a pre-schooler's vision is developing correctly. Please go by what your trusted eye doctor advises.

This blog provides general information and discussion about eye health and related subjects. The words and other content provided on this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician. The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ.