by Dennis Hurwitz, MD
Senior Sectional Editor
updated July 25th, 2014
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that the average cost of liposuction in 2013 was $2,866, not including anesthesia and other fees. However, that figure represents procedures that vary dramatically in scope, and were performed by surgeons in regions across the United States charging highly disparate fees based on their experience and reputation.
Liposuction, or the surgical removal of fat deposits, is one of the most common plastic surgery treatments performed today. In fact, it was the fourth most common plastic surgery performed in 2013, behind blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), rhinoplasty (nose reshaping), and breast augmentation. There are several different methods of performing liposuction, and it can be administered as a standalone treatment, or in conjunction with procedures such as abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), breast lift, face lift, and most body contouring treatments.
The way our bodies respond to a disciplined and healthy lifestyle is often "unfair." In other words, many of us commit to vigorous regular workouts at the gym and nutritious, balanced diets, only to be left with fat deposits in the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, and other areas. The desire to achieve a lean and attractive body tone in spite of the body's refusal to respond the way we want drives hundreds of thousands each year to seek surgical intervention in order to achieve their goals.
I recently performed liposuction for Tara, 49, an active woman who wanted to rejuvenate her figure. "Diet and exercise were not enough at this juncture in my life," Tara said. "I wanted to look - and, more importantly - feel better about my appearance both in and out of my clothes. It was definitely worth the cost. Self-confidence is always worth the cost."
If, like many others, you have decided to take an aggressive stance against stubborn fat deposits, it is most important to have an intimate understanding of the different factors that can influence the cost of treatment, rather than a hard number used to gauge any estimates you gather. The truth is that liposuction is a highly personalized treatment with many variables, and there are no two identical liposuction procedures. By educating yourself about the way your surgeon's experience, the location of your surgeon's practice, extent of treatment, and other factors influence the cost of this treatment, you can make better choices and increase your chances of achieving long-term satisfaction.
Scope of Liposuction Treatment
Major determining factors in the cost of a liposuction treatment include the number of areas being treated and the amount of fat being removed. Liposuction is often combined with other procedures, which can also make a tremendous difference in cost. In the case of a tummy tuck, liposuction is usually a given, and liposuction is factored into the estimate your surgeon provides. Does the patient wish to transfer liposuctioned fat to other areas, such as the breast, face, or biceps? In general, one could say that a breast augmentation using transferred fat costs about as much as augmentation using implants. Meanwhile, new innovations, such as "high-definition liposuction," combine fat removal with skin etching techniques that can make underlying muscle look better defined following liposuction. This is an especially popular treatment for those wishing to achieve the coveted "six-pack" look of chiseled abdominal muscles, but as always, it comes at a price. HD liposuction can cost twice as much as liposuction alone.
In sum, a liposuction procedure that only involves removing some fat from the abdominal region will cost much less than a procedure that involves removing fat from the midsection, flanks, and thighs, or involves other complementary procedures. As with virtually any medical procedure, the extent of your treatment will have a major effect on what you can expect to pay.
Surgeon's Fees: Experience, Reputation, and Technology
There is a basic principle that applies to most cash-pay health care procedures: the more reputable the surgeon, the more surgery will likely cost. A surgeon with considerable experience and recognition in the field of body sculpture can understandably command a higher fee. When you add advanced technology used for the benefit of the patients, this can also drive a price higher. Using lasers and radiofrequency in liposuction has been proven to provide even better results, but this equipment is expensive, and requires special training.
Traditional liposuction involves the use of a tube-like tool called a cannula. It is inserted below the surface of the skin through tiny incisions, and moved back and forth to loosen fat cells, which are then suctioned out through the cannula. In my case, I prefer to use VASERlipoTM, which incorporates ultrasound into this process. I invested in this expensive equipment so I could provide better results, and I've got to pay for it. I charge from $2,000 to $4,000 per area using VASERlipoTM, which is several hundred dollars more than surgeons typically charge for traditional liposuction.
In my experience, VASERlipoTM gives my patients better results, with less loose skin and quicker recovery. It's a three-step process of injecting a solution of saline and norepinephrine, applying ultrasound waves below the skin using a special probe, and evacuating the emulsified fat through a cannula. By using this advanced technology with knowledge and experience, you can remove the fat in a reasonable amount of time, in the most superficial layers so that the skin will reshape to a smaller size. Ultrasound allows for more selective damage to the fat, and minimizes trauma to neighboring connective tissue. By minimizing collateral trauma, more fat is removed, and the native elasticity of the connective tissue can shrink down to the smaller size.
Of course, a surgeon cannot build a reputation on technology alone. If you are interested in having liposuction, you should consider any advanced technology an extension of the surgeon's own abilities and expertise.
Choosing a Surgeon
A patient may think twice when they receive an estimate from a surgeon using advanced technology, but that individual would be well advised to reconsider the results that surgeon has provided for others. If paying more for an advanced treatment by a reputable surgeon is more likely to provide beautiful results that will not need revision surgery for undesirable contours or scarring, it could be considered a much more conservative option than paying a cut rate for a less reputable surgeon and having to undergo additional surgeries to achieve the results you really wanted in the first place. It is also important to note that a revisional body contouring surgery is usually more expensive than the original. Correcting errors made in a previous surgery requires more planning and more time to perform, which naturally incurs a greater expense.
It bears repeating that it pays to choose a surgeon who is excellent at their craft, and really knows what they are doing. All too often, people don't think about the fact that if one surgeon costs 50% more than another, it could mean that that surgeon is more likely to provide great results the first time around.
"I was drawn to Dennis Hurwitz, MD for three reasons," my patient Tara explains. "First, his years of helping both men and women achieve results that made them feel better about themselves. Second, my consultation with him was informative. He was engaged the entire time, answering each and every question knowledgeably and honestly. Third, considering his reputation, the pricing was more than reasonable."
Surgeons who concentrate on one specific procedure are rare. In other words, you don't find many surgeons who perform breast augmentation, but not face lift surgery or liposuction. If you want liposuction, you should choose a surgeon who devotes a lot of their time to liposuction and body contouring. If the doctor is mainly a face lift surgeon, you might wonder if they are actually capable of providing the best results. Don't be afraid to ask a prospective surgeon how often they perform liposuction, how often they perform revisions for patients whose initial surgeries were performed by other doctors, and details about the surgeon's policy concerning surgery performed to correct his or her own work.
Liposuction may seem fairly simple, but the truth is that it can be quite tedious, and requires a high degree of precision and skill. You have everything to gain by seeking a surgeon who excels specifically in liposuction. If that surgeon happens to use advanced technology to carry out the procedure, this could also be a strong indicator that the doctor is especially passionate about liposuction and body contouring, and could be more likely to provide you with satisfying long-term results.
In many cases, liposuction is performed for purely cosmetic reasons. Our society values a lean, youthful body tone, and healthy living alone is often not enough to help us reach our goals. When the patient simply wishes to improve his or her appearance, the price will likely be paid out of pocket. Practices accept cash, checks, and credit cards, and often work with third-party financing companies. Some practices finance treatments themselves.
In other instances, insurance may cover all or part of a liposuction procedure. These can include:
- The development of fat deposits because of prescribed chronic steroid treatments.
- Cushing Syndrome, or the development of a fatty hump between the shoulders resulting from long-term exposure to high levels of the hormone cortisol, usually through oral corticosteroid medication.
- Lipedema, a rare disease in which the legs accumulate fatty tissue, eventually affecting mobility.
- Breast reduction, in instances of overly large breasts causing a woman to experience back pain and other complications.
If you have been told that you require liposuction for medical reasons, you can be certain that insurance will only cover the extent of treatment needed to relieve your symptoms. In many cases, this amount of treatment is not going to result in flattering aesthetics. As such, you should consider the benefits of paying for further treatment that will help you not only achieve relief, but also an aesthetic enhancement that can help you feel confident about your appearance. Many practices, including mine, will work with patients in need of liposuction for medical reasons to determine a more comprehensive treatment plan, often at a discounted rate.
Whether you are expecting to pay for liposuction completely out of pocket, or if you are eligible for some degree of insurance coverage, you have absolutely nothing to lose by contemplating what you really hope to achieve, and discussing those goals with the most reputable surgeon in your area. You may be surprised to find that your surgeon offers more budget-friendly options and accommodations than you anticipate.
Anesthesia, Ambulatory Site Fees, and Recovery
In addition to your surgeon's fee, you can expect to pay fees for the surgical site, anesthesia, supportive surgical garments, pain medication, and other possible needs. Many surgeons have their own surgical suite, staffed by their own nurses and other professionals. If your surgery must be carried out in a hospital suite, it can cost hundreds more. However, in some instances, the hospital is the better choice. If you need extensive liposuction, complications are more probable, and it pays to have a hospital's resources available.
Liposuction is a procedure that can be performed either under local or general anesthesia. Local anesthesia allows you to remain conscious during surgery, but the treatment area is numbed so you will not feel any discomfort. This option can cost about $100 or more per hour. General anesthesia is used to completely sedate the patient. If it is administered by a nurse, general anesthesia can cost $300 or more per hour. When it is administered by an anesthesiologist, it can cost $450 or more per hour. Deciding which method of anesthesia to use largely depends on the extent of treatment. If the patient is having a small amount of fat removed, local anesthesia may be sufficient. On the other hand, if the patient is having extensive liposuction performed, or if it is being performed in conjunction with other procedures, general anesthesia will probably be the best option.
I personally think nurse-administered anesthesia is perfectly appropriate in many cases, but if the patient is anxious about the procedure, or if the treatment scope is extensive, the extra cost of an anesthesiologist can be well worth the money. What I consider extensive liposuction can easily take up to 4 hours, so it would be reasonable to estimate that anesthesia administered by an anesthesiologist could cost about $2,000 in this scenario.
Recovery also involves unique expenses. Compression garments are very important in liposuction recovery, aiding the healing process and helping the skin conform to your refined contours. I usually provide one free garment. Subsequent garments can cost between $50 and $100. During your recovery, you will be prescribed pain medication to ensure your comfort. Depending upon whether insurance covered any portion of your treatment, the extent of your treatment, and the specific pain medication prescribed, this can cost can range from under a hundred dollars to several hundred dollars.
Your surgeon should schedule follow-up visits to monitor your recovery, and this may include other services as well. I include VelaShapeTM therapy in the cost of every liposuction procedure I perform. This treatment uses ultrasound waves to reduce swelling and improve drainage. As a standalone treatment, this can cost about $100 per session. I'm excited to be offering this treatment because it reduces overall recovery time, discomfort, and your risk of needing secondary surgery.
Focus on Your Goals and Invest Wisely
Liposuction can help you achieve a better quality of life with improved comfort and self-confidence. The price of treatment can be intimidating, but you must remember that you have everything to gain by choosing a surgeon who is most likely to provide you with satisfying results. If you are considering one surgeon who charges more than another, compare the two based on their reputation, experience, and the results they provide, and make the necessary arrangements to place the cost of the best surgeon within your budget.
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