Summary: The cost of plastic or cosmetic surgery is something that’s been discussed more and more often lately. And that makes a lot of sense. For a procedure that you could elect to get or not to get, price can be a big factor—either limiting one’s decisions or guiding them. That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising that cosmetic and plastic surgeons are on the leading edge of “price transparency,” so consumers can see and compare the costs of procedures.

Comparing Costs

The cost of plastic surgery is always an interesting subject, partly because the costs can change so wildly from one place to another. What you pay for a breast augmentation, for example, could vary depending on the surgeon you see, where the procedure is performed, and whether you opt for local or general anesthesia. But there’s much more to plastic surgery cost than all that: there’s the price of the implant, the expertise of the staff involved, and whether you will have the procedure performed in a surgical suite on site or in a hospital setting.

The variability of these prices isn’t quite as interesting as the transparency of them. This is especially true when you think about medical costs more broadly. Most people have no idea how much a CT scan will cost them, or a flight of vaccines, or a round of blood work will cost. Somehow, when medical insurance pays for something, you have no idea how much it will end costing!

To be sure, this isn’t a terribly good system. Because the truth of the matter is that there is that same variability in normal medical costs as there is in plastic surgery costs. It’s just that no one notices because they only ever see the bill from the insurance.

What Makes Costs So Fluid?

As mentioned above, there are several factors that make plastic surgery costs so fluid. Liposuction in Orange County will be considerably different than liposuction in Maine, for example. The factors that may influence that fluidity could include the following:

  • State laws governing the practice of medicine (these laws may require more costs that are passed on to the consumer)
  • The experience of the surgeon; in most cases, surgeons with more experience will require higher costs
  • The popularity of the market; more popular markets (such as Los Angeles) will usually have higher costs (due to more demand) than less popular markets
  • The nature of the procedure: more complicated procedures almost always require more costs
  • The type of anesthesia used: Whether patients get local or general (which requires more equipment and more support) will greatly influence the overall cost
  • The setting of the procedure: in most cases, hospital settings tend to be more expensive for patients

To be sure, this is not the end of the list. But it does give you an idea of just how many calculations go into determining the cost of a procedure. There are many factors, and all of those factors need to be taken into account.

Why are Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery Costs Transparent?

Knowing what factors make plastic surgery costs variable is not the same thing as knowing why they’re transparent in the first place. After all, what incentive do surgeons have to advertise their prices? It’s not as if other medical services advertise prices (for example, you don’t select an emergency room based on prices). However, unlike other procedures, plastic surgery is often elective in nature.

Now, there are plenty of procedures that are “elective;” this simply means that it’s not a life-saving or emergency procedure. You have a choice. You may get the procedure or you may not get the procedure. Many reconstructive procedures are also elective. But plastic surgery is also highly competitive.

You might think the competitive nature of plastic surgery might drive costs down—less transparency and more “specials” for example. However, you also have to understand the psychology of economics. The more we pay for something, the more we associate it with quality. If something is high quality, we’re going to pay more for it.

I don’t think plastic surgery is immune from this mentality.

Indeed, I think that many plastic surgeons don’t mind putting the price of plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures up because even if they’re on the more expensive side, that’s going to appeal to a certain clientele.

Is Transparency of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery Costs Good or Bad?

Whether all of this transparency is good or bad is, ultimately, up to you. From my perspective, it’s difficult to see how it could be a bad thing. Knowing, up front, how much you’re going to pay for something out of pocket is certainly a good thing. The only problem I see is that price transparency doesn’t really address any affordability issues. Many surgeons have financing option, and the “listed price” on many procedures doesn’t necessarily make that clear.

In other words, when it comes to cosmetic and plastic surgery, cost is the start of the conversation, not the end.

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