Blepharoplasties skyrocket among Medicare patients costing taxpayers millions

July 9, 2013

From 2001 to 2011, eyelid lifts charged to Medicare more than tripled to 136,000 annually, according to a review of physician billing data by the Center for Public Integrity. In 2001, physicians billed taxpayers a total of $20 million for the procedure. By 2011, the price tag had quadrupled to $80 million. The number of physicians billing the surgery more than doubled.

 

Aging Americans more and more rely on the plastic surgeon’s scalpel to turn back the hands of time-and increasingly, Medicare is footing the bill.

Typically, Medicare doesn’t cover cosmetic surgery, but for cases in which a patient’s sagging eyelids significantly hinder his or her vision, it does pay to have them lifted. In recent years, though, a rapid rise in the number of functional eyelid lifts, or blepharoplasty, has led some to question whether Medicare is letting procedures that are really cosmetic slip through the cracks at a cost of millions of dollars.

From 2001 to 2011, eyelid lifts charged to Medicare more than tripled to 136,000 annually, according to a review of physician billing data by the Center for Public Integrity. In 2001, physicians billed taxpayers a total of $20 million for the procedure. By 2011, the price tag had quadrupled to $80 million. The number of physicians billing the surgery more than doubled.

“With this kind of management malpractice, it’s little wonder that the [Medicare] program is in such dire shape,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, who is also an MD. “The federal government is essentially asking people to game the system. Every dollar we spend on cosmetic surgery that isn’t necessary is a dollar that can’t be used to shore up the program for people who need it the most.”