Should Medicare Pay for Eyelid Lift Surgery?

Thursday, May 30, 2013
(photo: Center for Advanced Facial Plastic Surgery)

Medicare has been paying for what is essentially a cosmetic procedure for droopy eyelids that has cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.


The surgery, known as blepharoplasty, is in some cases medically necessary when a sagging eyelid compromises a patient’s vision. But the dramatic rise in the number of blepharoplasties paid for by Medicare has some suspecting that many seniors are getting away with bilking the government for an elective surgery.


Eyelid lifts billed to Medicare more than tripled to 136,000 annually from 2001 to 2011, according to a review of physician billing data by the Center for Public Integrity. During this time period, Medicare went from paying $20 million for the procedure 12 years ago to $80 million by 2011.


“With this kind of management malpractice, it’s little wonder that the [Medicare] program is in such dire shape,” Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), who is also a physician, told the Center for Public Integrity. “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.”


Of the 20 doctors who billed Medicare the most for blepharoplasties, 11 were based in Florida, which has a significant population of seniors.


One doctor in South Florida billed Medicare more than $800,000 in 2008 for about 2,200 eyelid lifts—an average of six a day, including weekends.


There are more than 200,000 eyelid lifts performed each year in the U.S. The procedure, which involves removal of excess skin with a laser, takes less than 30 minutes.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Eyelid Lifts Skyrocket among Medicare Patients, Costing Taxpayers Millions (by Joe Eaton, Center for Public Integrity)

Breast Surgery on the Rise; Nose Jobs Down (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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