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Cataract Surgery: A Bargain, Despite the Price
Date:9/23/2007

Experts say lens replacement is a cost-effective treatment for aging eyes

SUNDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Everyone, if they live long enough, will suffer from a cataract that clouds the vision in one or both eyes.

Because of that, doctors expect spending on cataract surgery to surge in the coming decades as the population ages, part of an overall increase in vision costs among older Americans.

However, it's money well spent, experts say.

Cataract surgery is one of the most cost-effective surgical procedures to address vision problems in seniors, said David B. Rein, a researcher with RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., who authored a recent study of the economic costs of vision disorders.

"It gives a great amount of benefit in terms of years of unimpaired vision, compared with dollars spent," Rein said.

In fact, it's one of the only therapies that actually cures the condition, rather than simply holding the line against future deterioration.

"You're removing a lens that is clouded, a dirty lens, and you're replacing it with a lens that's clear," Rein said.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, which affects a person's ability to see clearly. Most cataracts are related to aging. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute.

Major vision problems cost the U.S. economy about $35.4 billion a year, including $16.2 billion in direct medical costs. And because cataracts are frequent and inevitable, they make up the biggest chunk of those direct costs -- about $6.8 billion, according to Rein's research.

The primary way to treat cataracts is to remove the eye's lens and replace it with an artificial one.

These surgeries have been around for decades, and doctors have become remarkably adept at performing them, said Dr. Marco Zarbin
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