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Cataract Surgery

If you started traveling full-time after the age of 65, not only is it important to know the fundamental facts about your Medicare insurance coverage, but it is helpful to know some of the details.

The original Medicare Insurance covers you anywhere in the USA. There are only a couple of Medicare Gap insurers that cover you nationwide. It may be time to ensure that your particular brand of Medicare follows as you travel.

When choosing a homebase, make a point to find out if your current insurance is valid not only in that state but around the country. If not, you may have to cut your travel time short to return to the coverage area for surgery.

Odds are good that cataract surgery is in your future. The eyes are one of the most important organs in the human body, but if you travel often, their value increases manyfold.

This is my 23rd year traveling full-time (8-years solo) in my motorhome with no end in sight (pun intended). Cataract surgery makes it possible to continue traveling into the distant future.

An important decision is deciding where to camp for the extended time required to setup the surgery, the recovery, and the all-important post-op appointments. Since most surgeons are busy year-round, the actual surgery date may be months into the future.

As it turns out in my case, two months was the minimum time required for the actual eye surgery and recovery. The tests started about one month ahead of surgery. Since I inherited heavy eye lids that shrouded my eyes, that surgery was necessary too. Expect five months total for testing, both surgeries and recovery. If you are the driver, give yourself another month to recuperate.

As a solo traveler with surgery inevitable, I decided to be economical and rent a site for a full year saving $2,000+ over the monthly rate. This would be the first time in my 23 years to stay in the same spot that long. It would not be easy as the itch to travel starts about 6 weeks into any stay.

Being close to the surgeon's office is a priority, just in case. Good cell service, yes, that too. Just as important is having someone to shuttle you to and from surgery.

For solo travelers, there are a few non-profit organizations in most metro areas that can relied upon for that escort service, if no friends or relatives are available. Talk to the RV park personnel, there may be someone on-site available to help.

That escort becomes responsible for you and must stay on the premises during the actual surgery. Someone must also accompany you to the first post-op appointment the next day. If you have the eye lid surgery too, the same procedure applies.

The cataract surgery procedure takes about 10 minutes (schedule one-hour for paperwork and wait time). One eye is done at a time, with approx. a two-week interval in-between. A very small slit is made in the eye to vacuum out the old and replace the new lens.

There is really no down time, and I did not have any grogginess after surgery. A patch is placed over the eye to be removed the following day at the post-op appointment. After that appointment, I used my new eyesight immediately.

The eye with the worst vision is corrected first, so I stopped wearing my glasses after the first surgery. After both eyes were fixed, I found a need for some magnification for the fine print on labels and documents. For me, glasses are more of a rest for the eyes when holding a book up close than actually needing extra lens. It is truly amazing.

You must decide during the testing period if your want the best vision to see far ahead for road signs, and other long-distance viewing or close up for reading and computer use. I choice the long-distance option, of course.

Medicare only supports one or the other standard choice. If you spend another, say, $1,000 out of your pocket, you can have perfect vision apparently. Check this out way before setting the date.

The eye lid surgery requires the longest recovery period. Actual cuts are made to remove the excess skin, then stitched back together. The upper part of your face, almost down to the end of the nose, moves through the red, black and blue, yellow bruising phases.

There was little to no pain, but there is pressure from the stitches. An ointment is prescribed to keep the stitches sterile; it is easy to apply and I suffered no reaction from either the ointment or the prescription eye drops.

Your blood pressure is tested at every appointment. If high blood pressure is a issue for you, make sure that you discuss this with the anestheologist (usually a contractor, not an employee) as well as the surgeon before scheduling surgery. The maximum blood pressure acceptance seems to be 200/100 without prescription drug use, but it varies wildly with each doctor.

The Mayo Clinic offers an excellent website that explains the procedure in detail.


The Costs

Original Medicare sets and covers 80% of the cost, the patient pays the rest. If you have another brand of Medicare, all costs may be covered.

The co-pay amount in my particular case (original Medicare only): the eye exam, $202, with $325 per eye for the cataract surgery.

The eye lid co-pay: exam, $32; the eye lid surgery, $400.

The eye drops and ointment prescribed for these procedures are extremely expensive. If you choose Aiello Eye Institute in Yuma, Arizona for the surgery, you can buy these products across the border in Mexico for a fraction of the USA price. Budget about $50 for the drops and ointment purchased there.

Anywhere else in the country, after you receive the prescription, go online and search for free savings coupons. SingleCare.com and GoodRX.com both offer 50-80% savings. Print the coupons and present them to Walgreens, Walmart, and other big box pharmacies. There is no charge or obligation for this service. Budget $90-$100 for these products using a coupon.

Because Medicare only picks up their share of the costs if an ophthalmologist prescribes cataract surgery, it is wise to have your eyes checked every other year. When you begin to see halos around objects and glare makes vision difficult, the time is now to make that call.

As little as four weeks is required to have both cataracts removed, including post-op appointments. Staggering the surgeries is also fesible if your travel path is set.

Eye lid surgery is a much longer recovery period, although travel within a day is possible. The eyes work fine, it is the brusing that prompts the longer recovery time. The post-op appointment can take place at any later time, if no healing issues arise.

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