#1 Private Equity’s latest target? Eye care.

October 7, 2022

You pay for add-ons and upgrades at the movie theater, on a plane and even in health care. Now, private equity firms are cashing in on their chance to invest in eye care as the U.S. population ages.

According to KHN, private equity groups previously owned a handful of eye care practices, but now they’re invested in as many as 8% of the nation’s ophthalmologists.  That isn’t always good for consumers.

Patients visting private equity-owned ophthalmology practices are often charged extra for different services. For example, patients scheduled for cataract surgery can choose to have doctors use lasers instead of doing the surgery manually. For an extra fee, they can have multifocal eye lenses that get rid of the need for glasses or pay to fix an astigmatism.

Consider Christina Green’s experience. She needed cataract surgery after her vision clouded with treatment for breast cancer. She had surgery in 2019 with Ophthalmology Consultants and thought she’d walk away with 20/20 vision and a fixed astigmatism – which cost her $3,000 – but she got neither.

“You’re a cow among a herd as you just move from this station to this station to this station,” she told KHN.

Private equity groups provide financial backing that helps doctors expand their practices and negotiate for better drug pricing. However health economists have found that private equity-backed practices charged insurance an extra 20% and patients tend to make more frequent visits to these practices.

An analysis also found that many private equity firms are investing in ophthalmologists who prescribe high rates of two of the most common eye drugs – meaning they have a high volume of patients.

“The private equity model is a model that focuses on profitability, and we know they are not selecting practices randomly,” Aditi Sen, director of research and policy at Health Care Cost Institute, told KHN.

Has your physician’s practice or eye clinic been purchased by private investors? Tell us how that has affected you. Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.