Health cost outrage: The doctor wanted $1,575 up front for cataract surgery

Visitors to the philly.com/healthcosts page have been sharing their experiences with the health care system. Here’s one of them.

Jan Cadwell had never been so ready to go under the knife.

For years, the 71-year-old Woodbury, N.J., resident struggled with poor vision before finally deciding she was ready for laser cataract surgery.

The procedure would cost $1,500 per eye, Cadwell said her doctor told her.

Medicare coverage for cataract surgery is the same whether conventional surgical techniques or a bladeless, computer controlled laser is used. If a more expensive procedure and lens are used, providers can charge for non-covered costs.

“I gulped,” Cadwell recalled, “and said, ‘O.K.’ ”

The surgery seemed expensive, but worth it if it meant she could see again.

Cadwell figured she could pay for the procedure in installments of $500 a month.

Her doctor’s office had another payment plan in mind. Cadwell was told she would need to deliver $850 to the doctor’s office a week before the procedure, and another $725 the day of surgery, she said.

“I was horrified,” Cadwell said. “I was just completely anxious because I can’t see, now I can’t seem to get this done.”

She was disappointed, too.

Cadwell has worked as a flight attendant for 51 years, flying all over the world. But more recently she’s had to cut down her flight hours from 100 a month to 40 because her poor eyesight makes getting to the airport for early flights a challenge. It’s dark when Cadwell leaves her house at 5:30 a.m. and, depending on the time of year, dark when she heads home at the end of the day.

Fewer hours in flight means smaller paychecks, which is why Cadwell was so upset that her doctor wanted payment up front.

“I can afford it,” she says, “but it will take me a couple months to plan.”

Those plans are grounded, for now, but Cadwell still hopes to get the surgery someday.

“I’ll have my life back,” she said.

Have you ever been asked to pay for a medical procedure up front? Tell us your story by emailing us at healthcosts@philly.com or calling 215-854-2500.