Ukraine is newest worry over LASIK eye surgeries

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Ukraine is newest worry over LASIK eye surgeries

In a country where eye surgeries are considered a rite of passage to adulthood, ophthalmology is a prized specialty in the local medical field. Eye doctors generally make over 70 million won ($61,880) annually.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, some 200,000 people undergo LASIK and LASEK eye treatments every year, paying 1.5 to 2.5 million won per procedure to start a new life without glasses.

Doctor Kang, 43, runs an ophthalmic clinic in Seoul. He’s worried that his bottom line is about to be slashed by a problem that could hardly be forseen: the rising price of excimer laser gas mixtures, which are indispensable for producing the laser beams used in those surgeries.

And the reason why prices are rising are particularly unexpected. Ukraine is a major supplier of such gases, and domestic unrest have disrupted supplies. A geopolitical problem 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles) away is taking its toll on eye clinics in Korea.

“The prices of excimer laser gas mixtures are reaching new heights,” said Kang, who didn’t want to be identified by his full name. “My colleagues say we’d be hurting our own businesses to perform the surgeries [with current charges for the procedures]. If prices [of the gases] don’t settle down, we have no other choice but to consider charging our patients more.”

The gases are used in the lasers and have to be replenished. The price of a 50-liter bottle of excimer laser gases has gone from $1,200 in 2014 to $25,000 this year, escalating by over 20-fold. An insider who works at a local supplier predicted the price will soon rise to some $55,000, saying more and more factories in Ukraine are halting operations due to its national crisis.

Ukraine is a leading producer of neon gas, which is a major material of excimer laser gases and makes up to 95 percent of the substance. The rest is composed of fluorine and argon, among others.

Local suppliers worry that prices will increase even more after the U.S. Senate recently approved $300 million worth of military aid to Ukraine.

“Ophthalmic clinics are cautiously waiting for others to raise their surgery fees,” an ophthalmologist who runs a clinic in Seocho District, southern Seoul, said. “We’re all in a panic. No one wants to go first [to raise the costs] because their customers might instantly turn their backs.”

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