Refractive lens exchange, or RLE, involves the replacement of the lens of the eye with an altered lens that corrects their vision. The procedure is sometimes known as clear lens exchange, or CLE. It’s exactly like cataract surgery, except that the lens being replaced is the person’s healthy (though not perfectly focused) lens, rather than a clouded lens. Although the FDA has not approved the use of this type of surgery in people without cataracts, it’s legal and is performed by many eye surgeons. People choose RLE or other refractive surgery if they’re tired of the hassle of glasses or contacts, or don’t like how glasses or contacts look or feel.
If you’re choosing to have refractive surgery, make sure you’re choosing it because you really want it, not to please someone else or to fit an imagined ideal. No one else can make the choice for you; it’s your body, and you’re in charge of it. After you do your research and understand the procedure, if you believe that RLE is right for you, then proceed. You can learn more about the RLE procedure, its risks and benefits, in our Education Wiki.
The fee for RLE is generally around $2,500 to $4,500 per eye (if you’re having the procedure performed on both eyes, as most people do, then you should double the per-eye price to estimate your total).This is more than the cost of LASIK or similar surgeries.
Keep in mind that this is only an average; it varies by region and by individual surgeon, so you should check with the provider(s) you’re considering to determine their exact fee for the procedure. Ask what’s included in that fee, to make sure you aren’t surprised by extra costs when you get the bill later.
The price for RLE should include your procedure and all the necessary follow-up visits. Because at least six follow-up visits are needed during the year after RLE, you should make sure that these visits are included in the price of your procedure, or you could find that the cost of these visits adds significantly to your RLE cost.
Will Insurance Cover It?
Unfortunately, insurance does not typically cover refractive surgical procedures such as RLE. Medical insurance policies don’t cover vision care; a separate vision insurance policy is needed for that. However, even a vision insurance policy almost never covers refractive surgical procedures, as they’re considered elective, cosmetic procedures; policies cover glasses, and might cover contacts, but won’t cover refractive surgery. So you’ll need to figure out how to pay for your refractive surgery on your own.
What Are the Financing Options?
To many people, paying thousands of dollars up front seems impossible. However, if you don’t already have the money saved, you have many options available for financing. Many refractive surgery clinics offer financing plans for their patients. You can also get a medical credit card or other credit card, often with an attractive introductory interest rate; a medical loan, personal loan, or home equity loan from your bank; a loan from your 401(k); or loans or gifts from family and friends. Even if your credit isn’t great, you’d be surprised how many options you have. For more details about the financing options for your procedure, check out our Refractive Surgery Financing page.