Going on holiday with a bunch of Singaporeans but forgot your contact lens solution? Someone else will most certainly have some with them. Why? Because Singapore has the dubious honour of being the myopia capital of the world.
That means that almost anyone who’s not wearing glasses is either wearing contact lenses or has gotten LASIK surgery done.
LASIK certainly sounds tempting, as you’ll never again have to deal with your glasses fogging up when you eat instant noodles or buy travel sized bottles of contact lens solution before a trip.
But as with all things in Singapore, the big question is: how much does it cost? Let’s examine the options available at private clinics as well as the Singapore National Eye Centre.
LASIK Surgery in Singapore: How Much Does It Cost?
What is LASIK?
LASIK is short for Laser-Assisted In situ Keratomileusis. It’s a mouthful, so we appreciate the acronym. LASIK is a type of eye surgery where a laser is used to sculpt the cornea to improve short-sightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism.
The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that lets light into the eyeball and retina so you can see. Think of it like the camera’s lens. When your cornea goes out of shape, the image on the retina becomes fuzzy.
LASIK helps to correct the misshapen cornea by using a laser to cut the surface of the cornea and create a thin flap. Another laser (an excimer laser) is then used to shape the middle section of the cornea. Once the cornea has been re-shaped, the flap is put back in place to cover the cornea. It then naturally adheres to the cornea, forming your eye’s own bandage.
It’s a 10- to 15-minute day surgery that requires only topical anaesthetic eyedrops. Improvements are usually immediate and within a day or two (a week at most), you can go back to life as normal (though you have to stay off water and contact sport for a month).
There is a premium LASIK treatment called iLASIK. It involves creating a 3D map of the eye using Wavefront technology. This allows for a more intricate representation of your vision needs. Then, a bladeless laser technique that promises greater precision and safety is used to create the flap in the cornea. Of course, greater accuracy also demands greater cost.
Apart from LASIK, there are other types of laser eye surgeries:
Advanced Surface Ablation (Epi-LASIK, LASEK, PRK, TransPRK)
A no-flap, no-incision, surfaced-based procedure, ASA involves the removal of a thin layer of cells on the surface of the cornea so the laser can shape the cornea. A protective contact lens is then placed over the eye till the cells grow back in a few days.
This is the best option for those with thin corneas but it requires a longer treatment and recovery time (3-5 days).
ReLEx SMILE (Refractive Lenticule Extraction, Small Incision Lenticule Extraction)
Like ASA, it’s a flapless procedure but it’s recovery time is faster. A laser creates a disc-shaped piece of corneal tissue (lenticule) just beneath the surface of the cornea. The same laser then makes a small cut on the cornea to remove the lenticule. It’s the removal of the lenticule that changes the way light bends into the eye, clearing the vision.
This method doesn’t work for long-sightedness and isn’t as effective for high astigmatism or low myopia.
So, LASIK remains the most common and popular form of laser eye surgery in Singapore and around the world. Some estimates put the number between 28 and 40 million worldwide who have undergone LASIK.
Collagen Cross-Linking (CXL)
You might be offered CXL in addition to your laser eye surgery. This extra procedure aims at reducing both the risk of your degree returning and that of your cornea losing its shape which is known as corneal ectasia (though this is rare).
CXL is done during your laser surgery. Vitamin B12 drops are applied to the eye before UV light is shone on it for a minute. This activates the collagen fibres on your eye to cross-link and strengthen your cornea after LASIK.
Cost comparison of procedures: LASIK vs iLASIK vs ASA vs ReLEx SMILE vs CXL
$2,797 to $4,104
Add 30% to 50% more to your LASIK bill
$3,500 to $4,000
$4,805 to $6,000
Post-procedure medication (if not included in package)
$35 to $135
CXL (add on)
$1,199 to $3,000
Does LASIK have any side effects?
The short answer is: Yes. The long answer is: Yes, but they are minimal, bearable and often temporary.
Dry eyes: This is caused by the creation of the corneal flap and the effect of the laser on the cornea which cuts the corneal nerves responsible for normal tear production. It should resolve itself in a few months.
Night vision issues: Seeing halos, glares and starbursts at night is especially common in people with high myopia or high astigmatism. This goes away gradually within nine months to a year.
Discomfort and itchiness: The discomfort is part of the healing and will go away a few hours after the procedure. Closing your eyes or sleeping should alleviate the sensation. The itch should disappear in a few days. Using preservative-free artificial tears eye drops will help.
Risks associated with LASIK
Thinning cornea: This is rare (global incidence of only 0.04% to 0.06%) but it does happen. The cornea becomes irregular and unstable in a condition known as post-LASIK ectasia.
Problems with cataract surgery in the future: During cataract surgery, the lens in your eye is replaced with an artificial one to clear your vision. Because LASIK permanently changes your cornea, the lens calculations become more difficult since they requires a normal cornea for correct reading. So, you might end up having to wear glasses after your cataract surgery, which you would not otherwise have had to do.
Inaccurate eye pressure readings: Glaucoma is a condition where there’s increased pressure on the eyeball. This causes damage to the optic nerve that can lead to poor eyesight or even blindness. LASIK makes reading your eye pressure more of a challenge, leading to a lower reading.
Regression: Your myopia could return, especially if it was very high. But odds are that the improvements will be permanent and will require only minor adjustments if the shape of your cornea continues to change.
Who can (or can’t) benefit from LASIK?
Like any procedure, there are ideal candidates and less than ideal ones for LASIK.
You can go for LASIK if:
You are at least 18 years old (some say 21 years old)
Your degrees have stabliisied for at least a year
You are in good health
If you’re any younger, your eye-sight may not have stabilised yet. If you are in your 40s, you may need reading glasses as you age even with LASIK.
LASIK isn’t advisable if you:
Have very high refractive error, for example myopia of more than 1000 degrees, hyperopia of more than 400 degrees, and astigmatism of more than 400 degrees. Results tend to be less predictable and satisfactory for patients with these conditions.
Suffer from severe dry eye syndrome
Have thin corneas relative to the degree of improvement you want
Have irregular-shaped or steep corneas
Have existing eye injuries or diseases such as cataract, glaucoma, diabetic eyes or retina problems
Are hoping to correct presbyopia (long-sightedness due to age)
Are pregnant or nursing
Hormonal changes during pregnancy or nursing can cause vision to fluctuate. You may need to wait six months after pregnancy and nursing before undergoing LASIK.
Where can I get LASIK procedures done? Private vs public clinics
As with all medical procedures, you have your choice of public institutions and private clinics for your LASIK procedure. Public institutions are generally, though not always, the cheaper options.
LASIK in public institutions
There are a few of these that you can go to for LASIK:
Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC)
National University Hospital
Tan Tock Seng Hospital
Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)
– $204/ $259 (assessment)
– $125 x 4 (post-operation check-ups)
– $90 (medication)
– $2,797 to $4,048 (bladeless, ReLex Smile and PRK LASIK; depending on seniority of consultant; includes post-operation check-ups)
– $138 per visit (assessment)
– $35 to $135 (medication)
– $3,196.80 to $3,736.80 (depending on seniority of consultant)
– $222.48 to $239.76 (assessment and consultation)
– $100.44 to $110.88 x 3 (post-operation check-ups)
– $58.32 (medication)
Source: SNEC, TTSH, NUH, MOH
From our research, it would seem that SNEC is the most commonly chosen route for public clinics. They used to be one of the cheapest options but have since hiked up for their prices, which are now comparable to those being charged in the private sector.
LASIK in private clinics / hospitals
Here are some examples of private clinics and their LASIK prices (for both eyes).
$3,188 to $4,061
$3,988 to $5,188
Source: individual websites
Note that there will be additional charges for your consultation before doing the actual procedure. This usually ranges from $150 to $230, depending on seniority of your consultant.
Can I use Medisave or insurance to pay for LASIK?
With a bill that will run into the thousands, financing the improvement of your eye-sight can be a real issue. So, here are the answers to some of the questions you may have about paying for your LASIK treatment.
Can I use my Medisave?
In the vast majority of cases, no. Medisave is meant to be used for medical and surgical procedures. While LASIK is surgical, it isn’t so much a medical procedure as it is a cosmetic one.
But, you can use Medisave to defray costs if:
There is a difference of 300 degrees or more (3 diopters) between your two eyes
LASIK is performed to correct errors from previous procedures such as a cataract surgery
Your doctor certifies that you can’t tolerate contact lenses or spectacles.
Read more: MediSave Limits: When Can You Use MediSave to Pay?
Will my insurance cover LASIK?
The short answer? No. The vast majority of insurance policies don’t cover LASIK because it’s an elective, cosmetic surgery. In other words, as far as they’re concerned, you don’t really need it, you just want it to look better. In addition, most people in Singapore have worn glasses from a young age, in which case the myopia is considered a pre-existing condition.
This is true for the most common type of health insurance policies Singaporeans usually buy, that is, Integrated Shield Plans (IP) that offer coverage for hospitalisation.
It is possible to find overseas insurers that do offer some sort of coverage for LASIK. That said, you might have to buy a specific vision insurance plan, and even then, all you might get is a discount on your LASIK bill.
These types of plans are usually expensive for what they offer and, for Singaporeans living at home, simply not worth the cost. In addition, you would have to check thoroughly to ensure that you are eligible, and that coverage is not limited to a specific class of LASIK patients.
Which credit card should you use to pay for LASIK?
Yes, LASIK isn’t cheap. But it does have its pluses and there are ways to make the costs manageable.
One way is to charge your bills to a cashback credit card to get a rebate on your bill. Since LASIK typically costs at least $3,000, you’ll want to use a card without a cashback cap, like one of these:
MoneySmart x UOB GIVEAWAY
UOB Absolute Cashback Card
Stand to receive a ASUS Vivobook x BAPE ® (worth S$2,349) OR a Sony PlayStation®5 Disc Console (worth S$799) OR a Nintendo Switch OLED (worth S$549) when you successfully apply for an eligible UOB Credit Card through MoneySmart and meet the Giveaway eligibility criteria! T&Cs apply.
PLUS receive up to S$350 Cash Credit from UOB when you are the first 200 new-to-UOB customers who successfully apply for an eligible UOB Credit Card and spend a min. of S$1,000 per month, for 2 consecutive months from the card approval date. T&Cs apply.
Valid until 17 Oct 2023
Cash Back Features
1.7% limitless cashback on everything, including groceries, insurance, school fees, wallet top-ups, healthcare, Utilities & Telco Bills and Rental
Cashback for Family Spending
HSBC Visa Platinum Credit Card
Get a Samsonite ZELTUS 69cm Spinner Exp Luggage with built-in scale (worth S$680) or S$150 cashback for new HSBC credit cardholders. Existing HSBC credit cardholders receive $50 cashback. Min. spends of S$1,000 upon card approval required and marketing consent provided upon applying. T&Cs apply.
Valid until 31 Dec 2023
Cash Back Features
5% cash rebate on dining, groceries and petrol with min. S$600 spend/month for all 3 months in a calendar quarter
S$250 cash rebate cap per calendar quarter
Faster Gift Redemption | MONEYSMART LUCKY DRAW
Citi Cash Back Card
[MONEYSMART LUCKY DRAW]
Get an Sony WH1000-XM5 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones (worth S$575) OR a Nintendo Switch OLED Gaming Console (worth S$549) OR a S$450 Amazon SG Gift Card OR S$300 Cash via PayNow when you apply and spend a min. of S$500 in "Qualifying Spends" within 30 days from card approval date. T&Cs apply
PLUS stand a chance to win a MacBook Air M2 15-inch or an Apple iPhone 14 Pro or an Apple Watch Ultra today! T&Cs apply.
Valid until 30 Sep 2023
Cash Back Features
Base cashback rate: 0.25% on all retail purchases
An additional 5.75% cash back will be applied to your dining transactions, additional 7.75% cash back will be applied to your grocery and petrol transactions if you spend at least S$800 on your card per statement month
Total cash back earn will be capped at S$80 combined across all retail spend per statement month
General exclusions such as bills, payments to educational, governmental, and financial institutions apply
Cashback earned will be accumulated and automatically credited to your credit card statement when it reaches S$50. You will also be able to track your cashback earned on the Citi Mobile App
With Citi PayAll, you can earn and accumulate Citi Miles, Citi ThankYou PointsSM or Cash Back quickly when you pay your big-ticket bills such as rent, insurance premiums, education expenses, taxes, utilities and more
Earn Unlimited 1.5% Cashback | UPSIZED CASH
Standard Chartered Simply Cash Credit Card
Get up to S$360 Ultra Upsized Cash via PayNow* OR an Apple Watch SE, 40mm GPS (worth S$379) OR a Nintendo Switch OLED (worth S$549) OR a Hinomi H1 Pro Ergonomic Chair (worth S$619) when you apply and spend a min. of S$500 in Eligible Transactions. T&Cs apply.
Valid until 30 Sep 2023
Cash Back Features
1.5% cashback awarded for all eligible purchases, such as dining, online shopping, local and overseas spend
Cashback terms and conditions: General exclusions such as bills, payments to educational, financial, and governmental institutions, and GrabPay top up apply
American Express True Cashback Card
Cash Back Features
3% Cashback for the first 6 months up to S$5,000 spend, 1.5% Cashback on any purchase you make thereafter
Unlimited Cashback - No min spend & no cap
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Original article: LASIK Surgery in Singapore 2023: Where To Go And How Much Does It Cost?.
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