Guide To Vision Care Expenses Plus Eye Care Insurance Tips

by Kosmo on 2012-01-1810

When I was in middle school, my parents took me on a road trip to Madison, Wisconsin to see the Badgers play my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes (whom I have since deserted for Iowa State). Not only was it the first college basketball game I had been to, but the first major sporting event of any kind. For a kid who lived and breathed sports, it was a big deal.

Even though we had pretty mediocre seats, I soon realized that something was wrong. I couldn’t make out any of the players — they were all just a blur! Luckily, my dad had brought his binoculars, so I used them to watch the game.

The problem, obviously, was that I needed glasses.

Now I’m an adult, and 75% of my family has corrected vision. I wear glasses, my wife wears contacts, and our four year old daughter has worn glasses since she was about eighteen months old.

While vision expenses are somewhat predictable, the costs add up. Let’s check out what they are.

A Quick Guide To Vision Care Expenses

  • Vision exams — These costs can vary quite a bit, with contact lens exams costing more, but you can expect an outlay of somewhere between $75 and $150.
  • Glasses — These can range from cheap (as $10) to expensive (as $500 or more), depending on what you buy and where you buy them.
  • Glasses cleaning supplies — These supplies are usually relatively inexpensive, and you can often get free samples from your eye doctor.
  • Glasses cases — You can often get a free case from your doctor, or you can buy from a third party.
  • Accessories — I have a pair of clip-on sunglasses that I use for summer driving.
  • Contacts — Disposable contacts can cost a couple hundred dollars per year.
  • Contact lens solutions — If you aren’t wearing daily disposable lenses then you’ll need lens cleaning solutions. You need to make sure to disinfect lenses to avoid getting an eye infection. Here’s an eye care tip: although most contact lens wearers put in their contacts before taking a shower, this can lead to infections due to impurities in the water. You’d be better off waiting until after your shower to put them on!

I’m sure that this isn’t a comprehensive list, especially for contact lens wearers. I tend to be a “wipe my glasses with my shirt” sort of person, so I’m sure that a lot of people spend more on cleaning supplies and cases.

Where Can I Buy Eye Care Materials?

  • Your eye doctor can provide you one stop shopping! I’ve always found it a bit unusual that the optometrist who writes prescriptions will also fill the prescription by selling you a pair of glasses. I see that as being similar to my doctor’s office selling prescription drugs to me as I walk out the door. You’ll probably pay more at your doctor’s office than any other place, but on the flip side, you may get better service. In the roughly three years my daughter has had glasses, she has probably needed to get them adjusted about 35 times. Sadly, that’s not a typo or an exaggeration. While many places will adjust glasses for free, they generally do this on the condition that they aren’t responsible for any damage. This makes sense — if they aren’t making money from the service, it wouldn’t be very profitable to risk damaging a $500 pair of glasses. However, your eye doctor is not your only option — you can take their prescription and buy glasses somewhere else.
  • Brick and mortar stores — You can choose a specialty store that does nothing but sell glasses, or you can buy eyeglasses from the vision center in many large retailers — even Wal-Mart. As you can imagine, prices vary quite a bit.
  • Online — You can buy glasses at Zenni Optical for as low as $6.95 plus shipping ($4.95). Prices go as high as $46, which is still relatively cheap. I personally don’t have any experience with Zenni (or any other online sellers), but I know a few people who really like them. The downside is that you don’t have someone local to deal with in the case of a problem. Check online options if you know what you want or would just like to compare prices. Here’s more on how to buy eyeglasses online.

My experience: I’ve bought glasses at my doctor’s office, at a mall specialty store, and at Wal-Mart. Perhaps surprisingly, the Wal-Mart pair was one of the better pairs I have owned. The pair from the mall was OK, and the ones from doctor’s offices (multiple doctors over the years) have been a bit of a mixed bag.

One factor that might affect where you buy is vision care insurance. Although it’s not particularly common, some employers do offer it. Let’s discuss that for a moment.

What Does Vision Insurance Cover?

  • Lenses — My insurance plan covers new eyeglass lenses once per year. If I use a participating doctor, the full cost of standard lenses is covered. The coverage is for medically necessary aspects of the lenses. Added features like no-line progressive lenses, scratch coating, sun glasses and transitional lenses (those which switch from sunglasses to standard glasses automatically) are usually your responsibility.
  • Frames — My plan covers new frames once every two years. The plan covers frames up to a certain dollar amount and those that I like the most are actually among the cheapest that my doctor offers, so they are 100% covered. If you opt for more expensive designer frames, you’ll be footing a chunk of the bill. A key point is that the insurance is designed to cover the medically necessary part of the expense. If you wear glasses, it’s medically necessary to have the lenses held in front of your eyes. It’s not medically necessary to have a $500 set of frames do this job.
  • Contact lenses — Generally, a plan will cover either contact lenses or glasses, but not both.
  • Exams — My plan covers the cost of an annual eye exam. My doctor gives me the option of having digital images taken of my eyes instead of having them dilated. This isn’t medically necessary, since dilation is an option. However, I absolutely hate having my eyes dilated, so I pay the cost (about $20) out of my pocket.

What Isn’t In The Insurance Plan?

  • Benefits are reduced for non-participating doctors — The downside of my insurance plan is that there’s only one participating doctor’s office in our metro area. I’ve had good experiences at this place, but my wife hasn’t. They just haven’t been able to get her prescription quite right, so she goes to a non-participating doctor. So while my expenses are generally fully covered, hers are not.
  • Eye illness / injury — Vision insurance is generally designed to cover issues related to vision correction. If you get pink eye or crack your orbital if you get hit with a baseball, you won’t be covered by vision insurance, but rather by standard medical insurance.
  • Vision correction surgery — Most insurance plans do not cover vision correction surgery such as LASIK. You can, however, defray the cost by using the money in a flexible spending account to pay for surgery.

Dealing With Your Old Eyeglasses

What should you do with your old glasses? Now that you have a brand new pair of glasses, you have an old pair to get rid of. Don’t just throw them in the trash because they can still be useful! Here are some ideas for recycling your old spectacles:

  • Backup pair — Every once in a while, you might be unable to find your glasses, or you might be unlucky enough to break them. While the old glasses aren’t the right prescription, they’ll do in a pinch. I have a spare pair at work and another in the car, as I’m somewhat paranoid about losing/breaking my glasses.
  • Donate — Many doctor’s offices and vision centers have a location where you can drop off old glasses. The glasses are recycled and used in glasses for the poor, both in the US and abroad. If it’s a choice between having the glasses gather dust in your junk drawer or being of use to someone else, then the decision really should be a no-brainer.

Don’t wear glasses? You may still want to bookmark this article. As people get older, they tend to get farsighted or may need reading glasses, so this piece may be helpful! After all, a lot of us end up wearing glasses when we reach our late 40s, 50s, or 60s.

Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

JV January 19, 2012 at 10:58 am

Yes, we’re all getting older now, so even those born with 20/20 vision find things beginning to blur now… As for that spare glasses, I agree! I remember this Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith, he’s this bookworm loner who loves books. When the world ends and he’s the last man left, he’s happy because he can spend all his time now reading. Then he breaks his glasses….

Silicon Valley Blogger January 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Nice one! I always thought it would be a nightmare to lose my glasses while nobody else is at home. I’m almost legally blind and well, that would be quite a problem. Plus, the older I get, the drier my eyes get. And I’m becoming far-sighted (despite severe myopia). I’m the perfect customer for a vision plan eh?

Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers January 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

There’s a Twlight Zone episode about my life? (OK, I’m not completely a loner, but there are a lot of times when I could turn off the world for a week and just read).

Happily, my vision is fine for most every day tasks, but I can definitely understand the fear of not being able to see well enough to find misplaced glasses. The DMV does request (require) that I wear them, though, so that’s why I always have a spare pair in my car.

Very timely posting of this article – I just had to go to the eye doctor yesterday for some eye pain. Turned out to be simple inflammation. Paid my $20 co-pay, walked next door to the pharmacy and got a prescription for free (free generics!).

Silicon Valley Blogger January 20, 2012 at 11:48 am

Good for you Kosmo! Coverage for self-employed people just doesn’t come as easy. This is where my tax savings as an entrepreneur go — they’re simply redirected to health expenses. Fie!

Loretta January 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Anyone know if circle lenses, colored or other cosmetic contacts can be covered by a vision plan? Probably not?

Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers January 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Almost certainly not the cosmetic portion. If the cost can be broken down into the cost of the functional aspect and the cost of the cosmetic aspect, perhaps. Your best best is to check the language in your policy or contact the company to verify what is covered.

I’ve never been a contact lens wearer, so I don’t have a great deal of knowledge of them. Everything I know about them I’ve learned by observing my wife.

Kathy@Pre Planned Gardens January 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Very good tips! I have worn eyeglasses most of my life, and fortunately, as an adult I had great insurance that covered approximately 90 % of the total of my glasses (including exam and supplies). That being said, I paid a nice little premium for this coverage (well, less than 20 dollars per month). Well worth it. Now, however, I am self employed and therefore no longer enrolled in the insurance plan. Darn…now I know the full effect of how much eyeglasses cost. And as I age, I need new lenses every year.

I always purchased my frames at my eye Dr.’s office, but until now I never considered buying them from Walmart. Good idea – at least less expensive frames will help in the overall cost.

Economically Humble January 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I’ve had great experiences with Zenni. They don’t last as long, but at $12 a pair they are a steal!

Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers January 31, 2012 at 3:30 pm

@ Kathy
I would probably still be buying my glasses at Wal-Mart, except that my employer added vision insurance several years ago. That made the cost different pretty negligle (and for the last couple of pairs, the difference has been zero).

The Wal-Mart glasses fit fine and lasted for a few years. Then again, I was single at the time, so the frames didn’t take much abuse. My current glasses get yanked off by my two year old quite a bit.

It’s also worth noting that I’m a very “low maintenance” person. I could care less about the name of the frame’s designer. Other people might be willing to pay a premium.

The cost difference can be huge. I think my daughter’s glasses would have bene around $300 at the eye doctor’s office is we hadn’t had insurance vs. something like $70 at Wal-Mart.

Peter @ April 27, 2012 at 11:55 am

I want to second the part of this article about donating eyewear — specifically eyeglasses (since donating used contact lenses is gross to think about).
I have worn both contacts and glasses and while I like to keep a spare pair of glasses on hand (in case my current ones break), I wholeheartedly support donating used eyeglasses. Glad to see it being promoted in this article!

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