By Harini Chakrapani
While the rest of the country is experiencing a surge in medical inflation, cosmetic surgery prices are falling.

Reports released by The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) indicate nip-and-tucks are not just popular, with Americans spending over $13.5 billion, but also affordable. Costs for certain cosmetic procedures have barely increased since 1998.

In 2015, liposuction or the removal of excess fat, and breast augmentation, amongst the most sought after treatments saw less than a 35 percent increase in prices from 1998.  

Price changes for cosmetic procedures- surgical 

Source: The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons 

Non-surgical procedures tell a different story altogether. Botox and laser hair removal fell in prices from 1998.

Price changes for cosmetic procedures- non-surgical 

Source: The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons 

In a world of escalating inflation where medical inflation has grown by 84.6 percent since 1998, cosmetic surgery serves as an anomaly. Experts say it remains immune because it operates outside of the insurance industry that governs the prices for drugs, and treatment by doctors and nurses. Since, consumers directly pay for services instead of insurance companies, they can bid on the prices.   

“When people pay out-of-pocket, they are more cost conscious. They have more incentive to shop around and look at different surgeons, physicians, and clinics and see where they can get the best deal,” said Economics professor
Mark J. Perry at the University of Michigan-Flint, who studies medical inflation and blogs for the Washington D.C. based think-tank American Enterprise Institute.

He also cited one of the reasons why medical care excluding cosmetic surgery was inflating quickly was because consumers were not aware what they were paying for while their insurance providers covered their bills.

“If we could go shopping for groceries, and we only had to pay 10 percent of the cost ourselves and 90 percent was paid by somebody else, we would buy more expensive food than when we were paying the full amount out-of-pocket,” he said.

Sheila Nazarian who set up her cosmetic surgery practice in Beverly Hills, California believes fierce competition from an ever-expanding pool of cosmetic surgeons was affecting prices.

“People who are charging very low prices are obstetricians and gynecologists, general surgeons, dentists who have no training in cosmetic surgery whatsoever. They will come out and charge $3000 for a breast augmentation when the going rate is normally $7 or 8,000,” said Dr. Nazarian.

Besides breast augmentation, other procedures with weak growth in prices include eyelid surgery, tummy tuck and breast lift.

Today, the anti Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare sentiment remains fervent at the presidential debates due to the high healthcare premiums.

But there’s a reason why insurance exists.  

Adria Gross a proponent of insurance coverage from MedWise Insurance Advocacy offered her insights.

Her client, whom she declined to disclose, was embroiled in a court case due to a plastic surgeon’s negligence.

“She broke her fingers in two areas. The plastic surgeon who worked on her messed it up. She wound up having to pay a bill of $30,000 for a procedure that costs 2-4000 dollars. What happens if you have cancer and don’t have insurance? You will get ripped off,” she said.

The benefits of insurance are open for debate. But for now, the cosmetic surgery industry remains a true market, by not allowing the insurance system to dictate prices, instead letting consumers (patients) decide how much they’re willing to pay, and businesses (doctors) compete with each other on price.