If you are interested in orthokeratology as an alternative to improving your visual acuity because you do not want to use glasses, daily contact lenses, or get surgery, you should know it is not a cheap solution.(Learn More) Unlike glasses and contact lenses, orthokeratology is not considered medically necessary. It is elective or cosmetic, so it is not likely that your vision or health insurance will cover the cost.

In 2019, the range of orthokeratology costs depends on your refractive error, cost of living in your location, and your ophthalmologist’s experience, but in general, costs range from $1,000 to $4,000. (Learn More)  Orthokeratology is still less expensive than LASIK, so it can be a good cosmetic alternative to surgical options.

While your insurance may not cover it, an associated health savings account may offset some costs. (Learn More)  There are also no free options or financial assistance for orthokeratology since it is not deemed medically necessary. (Learn More)

woman sleeping with ortho-k contacts

What Is Orthokeratology? Is It Expensive?

 

If you want to stop wearing glasses or contact lenses, but don’t want to undergo surgery like LASIK, you may not feel like you have many options. One option, called orthokeratology, can help you get the corrected eyesight you desire without lasers or microscopic blades.

Instead, the orthokeratology process uses a series of gas-permeable hard contact lenses to reshape your cornea over one to four weeks. Then, you wear “retainer” contact lenses at night after your cornea has been molded to temporarily correct your refractive error. The process is a little like having braces, except your eyesight will revert to its original refractive error after a few days if you stop wearing the retainer contact lenses.

The process for orthokeratology starts with an eye exam with an ophthalmologist to determine if you are a good candidate for this procedure. If your eyes are healthy and your refractive error is not too high, your ophthalmologist will use a device to map the corneal surface of your eye and fit you for the series of reshaping contact lenses. These will be made to fit to your eye.

When they are complete, your eye doctor will give you care instructions to keep your eyes healthy, just like with other types of contact lenses. You will also need to go to several follow-up eye exams during the process, to make sure your eyes are responding well to the hard contact lenses and that your eyes are still healthy during this process.

While this is not a surgical procedure, orthokeratology is a process that, like glasses or daily wear contact lenses, requires good hygiene, regular maintenance, and at least annual eye exams to ensure eye health. It is more expensive than glasses or contact lens prescriptions, so it is considered an elective procedure and not covered by insurance. This means that the upfront cost is high, and other aspects of the process, as it continues over the months and years, may have higher associated costs.

What Are the Costs of Orthokeratology in 2019?

 

Like other kinds of vision treatments, orthokeratology ranges in price, depending on where you live, the doctor’s experience, if your insurance will cover any portion of the cost, and how many pairs of fitted lenses you need. Typically, the cost of orthokeratology, starting with an eye exam, the fitted lenses, and some of the follow-up care, will be between $1,000 and $4,000, as of January 2019.

Your cost will increase if you have a higher level of refractive error to be corrected because you will need more fitted lenses. For people with low levels of refractive error, it may cost between $1,000 and $2,000 to have contacts fitted to both their eyes. Higher levels of refractive error may increase the cost to $4,000. The cost of the retainer lenses ranges between $300 and $500, and you will need to go to regular eye exams and replace your hard contact lenses several times to maintain corrected vision.

You will pay more if you live in a major city and if work with an optometrist or ophthalmologist in a private practice. The general cost of living in larger cities, like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, or Dallas, is higher than lower density residential areas, rural areas, or suburbs. This means it costs all medical practitioners more to set up their practices. Private practices incur more financial costs than working in a larger clinic with other practitioners. You may consider going to a vision clinic that offers several specialists in one location, so you have access to a range of vision treatments, including orthokeratology, but pay less overall.

Paying a little more for high-quality care is very important. All kinds of doctors, including ophthalmologists, raise their rates for specific areas of expertise. They spend a lot of time training to become experts, ensuring they have access to the best technology. Orthokeratology is not surgical, but it is a procedure that requires medical oversight from a specialist. An ophthalmologist who specializes in ortho-K and has great patient reviews is worth the extra cost.

It is important to note that the upfront cost of ortho-K is around half the cost of LASIK. Cost comparisons show that:

  • Orthokeratology is $500 to $1,000 per eye; LASIK is about $1,000 to $2,500 per eye.
  • For both eyes, orthokeratology is as high as $4,000 for greater refractive errors, while LASIK is roughly $4,500 for both eyes.

Both orthokeratology and LASIK require follow-up visits to a trained ophthalmologist to monitor eye health over the years and to treat any side effects or infections that occur. These treatments are likely to be billed separately, but the cost will be roughly the same. Much of the cost for both will be out of pocket, as both LASIK and orthokeratology are considered cosmetic procedures in most cases.

Can Insurance Pay for Orthokeratology?

 

Insurance word written on wood blockYour standard vision insurance and your standard health insurance will not cover orthokeratology treatments since they are elective procedures. However, associated health savings accounts may help you cover some of the costs of orthokeratology and follow-up eye exams. The following are types of health savings plans you may use:

  • Flexible spending account, or FSA
  • Medical spending account
  • Section 125
  • Flex 125
  • Tax saving plan
  • Cafeteria plan

These are employer-sponsored benefits in most cases, but if you self-pay for vision insurance or health insurance, these companies may provide a plan that you can pay into and receive reimbursement from.

As tax season approaches, you can use your tax refund to apply to orthokeratology treatments. You may be able to work with the ophthalmology group on a payment plan, or you could raise the money yourself by putting money aside, setting up a crowdfunding program, or using a credit card and then paying the balance down over time.

Is There Financial Help for Eye Treatments Like Orthokeratology?

 

The National Eye Institute (NEI) lists options for free eye exams, glasses, and even free contact lenses, or financial help for these basic eye care treatments. However, for elective procedures like orthokeratology, LASIK, or other options, free treatment is not available.

Surgeries and nonsurgical eye maintenance, like cataract or glaucoma treatments, are available for free, low cost, or with government assistance because they are serious conditions that can lead to blindness, which is a public health issue. Managing refractive errors with more extensive treatments beyond glasses or daily wear contact lenses is not considered a public health crisis, so there are not programs to pay for these options.

However, if you undergo an orthokeratology procedure and suffer serious side effects from poor hygiene or from working with an inexperienced ophthalmologist who did not fit your contact lenses properly, you may be eligible for financial assistance to manage care for these issues. The best way to avoid this situation is to research the best possible ophthalmologists in your area who understand the ortho-K process.

 

Ophthalmologist doctor with the snellen chart

 

References

 

Ortho-K. American Optometric Association (AOA).

What Is Orthokeratology? (September 13, 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Ortho-K and Corneal Refractive Therapy: Overnight Contacts to Correct Myopia. All About Vision.

Financial Aid for Eye Care. (June 2016). National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH).