Groupon, LivingSocial deals for cosmetic procedures help fill health insurance gap
Groupon and LivingSocial, two of the country’s top steal-a-deal websites, are great places to shop for everything from meals to massages. Now, you also can get bargains on Botox injections, chemical peels and other cosmetic procedures.
Americans without health insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures — along with those looking for a great deal on having a little work done — are heading to Groupon, LivingSocial and similar sites in hopes of saving a bundle.
Devon Niccole, president and CEO of CosmetiCare Plastic Surgery Specialists in Southern California, says her business recently offered a Groupon deal for six laser hair removal sessions. Groupon price: $125. Regular price: $900. Niccole says the deal drew more than 1,100 patients.
|Botox treatment is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures available on deal websites like Groupon and LivingSocial.|
Giving plastic surgeons and others the chance to reach new clients with little effort, Groupon requires that sellers cut their regular prices by 50 percent or more and pay Groupon a hefty portion of the revenue collected through a deal.
Groupon’s competitors, such as LivingSocial, offer similar discounts. LivingSocial touts one local “great deal” a day. A recent deal in San Francisco offered $300 worth of cosmetic work for $150.
It’s no wonder that providers of cosmetic procedures are flocking to Groupon, LivingSocial and their sister sites: There’s an enormous demand. Botox injection was by far the most popular cosmetic procedure in 2010, with more than 5.3 million procedures performed in the United States, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Soft tissue fillers,” like collagen injections, were in second place with nearly 1.8 million procedures in 2010. Next in line was the chemical peel, with more than 1.1 million procedures.
So, why don’t you see tummy tucks and other surgical procedures advertised on Groupon, LivingSocial and other deal sites? It’s simple: The American Medical Association and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons limit such promotions to “minimally invasive” cosmetic procedures — nothing involving a knife.
One explanation for the popularity of cosmetic procedure deals on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial is the lack of health insurance coverage for most in-office, elective cosmetic procedures such as laser peels, facials and Botox treatments.
Nicholas Newsad, senior billing analyst at Health Inventures LLC, a national surgery center management company, says in-office Botox injections and similar cosmetic procedures aren’t considered “vital” in the eyes of a health insurance company. “You don’t need to get rid of laugh lines to sustain life or to live what insurance companies consider a high-functioning or normal life,” Newsad says.
Dr. Scott Boden, a hair transplant specialist in Connecticut and Massachusetts, says health insurance may cover cosmetic treatments associated with cancer, burns, accidents and injuries, as well as surgeries that are considered medically warranted. Those surgeries include breast implants following a cancer-related mastectomy and skin grafts for burn victims.
|Deal websites typically offer discounts of at least 50 percent on cosmetic procedures, including chemical peels and collagen injections.|
“I have also seen a patient’s insurance cover hair restoration and scalp surgery if a patient has had a burn or radiation treatment, or hair loss due to injury or congenital defect,” Boden says.
Boden says an eyebrow lift to reduce age-related sagging probably won’t be covered by health insurance. But if an eyebrow lift is being done to improve a patient’s eyesight, the procedure could be covered, he says.
The same holds true for a nose job. If you simply don’t like the shape of your nose, your health insurance won’t pay for the surgery. But if you’re having difficulty breathing and a nose job will help, your health insurance typically will pay for it, Boden says.
Back in the world of cosmetic procedures, the use of Groupon, LivingSocial and other deal sites has stirred debate in the medical community. An article by the Orange County Register about cosmetic deals on Groupon pointed out that some doctors embrace it “as a useful tool for drumming up business. Others spurn it as financially or ethically flawed.”
No matter which side of the ethical divide the doctors are, patients are reaping the benefits — in terms of beauty and bucks.