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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35179. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035179. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Variation in prices charged to patients for specialty intraocular lenses inserted during universally covered cataract surgery.

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Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Patients often pay for specialty intraocular lenses (IOLs) for cataract surgery covered by universal insurance. This practice creates the potential for inequitable pricing where the medical service provider is also the retailer. We measured the variation in prices between cataract surgeons for the same IOL and associated testing.


We telephoned every cataract surgeon in Ontario, Canada, and asked their price for the most common type of specialty IOL as a prospective patient. We measured the total prices quoted and variation between providers.


We contacted 404 ophthalmologists. There were 256 that performed cataract surgery but 127 offered the most commonly employed specialty IOL and would provide a price to patients over the telephone. We obtained prices from all 127 ophthalmologists. Prices for the same lens and associated testing varied substantially between ophthalmologists from $358 to $2790 (median $615, interquartile range $528-$915). There was variation in all components of the total out-of-pocket price, including the price for the IOL itself, charges for uninsured eye measurements, and non-specific supplemental fees.


Although cataract surgery is covered by public health insurance, some ophthalmologists charge much more than others for the same specialty IOL and associated testing. Greater access to price information and better regulatory control could help ensure patients receive fair value for out-of-pocket health expenses.

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