What Is Vision Insurance?
Vision insurance is a type of health insurance that entitles you to specific eye care benefits defined in the policy.
Vision insurance policies typically cover routine eye exams and other procedures, and provide specified dollar amounts or discounts for the purchase of eyeglasses and contact lenses. Some vision insurance policies also offer discounts on refractive surgery, such as LASIK and PRK.
Potentially high costs of routine eye examinations and prescription eyewear can be of real concern, especially for large families. You might be able to defray at least some of these costs by looking into acquiring vision insurance for yourself or better understanding the plan your company already provides.
Vision insurance only supplements regular health insurance. Regular health insurance plans protect you against financial loss due to unexpected eye injury or disease.
Vision insurance, on the other hand, is a wellness benefit designed to reduce your costs for routine, preventive eye care such as eye exams, eyewear and other services.
Where Can I Get Vision Insurance?
Group vision insurance can be obtained through your company, association, school district, etc., or through a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid.
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If you are not eligible for a group plan because you are self-employed or for other reasons, most vision insurance providers also offer policies for individuals that you can purchase separately.
Vision insurance often is a value-added benefit linked to indemnity health insurance, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) that have contracted with managed vision care networks to provide eye care services.
Indemnity health insurance is traditional health insurance that allows policyholders access to medical providers of their choice.
An HMO is a group of healthcare providers doctors, laboratories, hospitals and the like employed to provide health care to plan members at discounted rates. Usually, plan members are required to access health care (including vision care) only from HMO providers.
A PPO is a network of healthcare providers organized to provide healthcare services to health plan members at a fixed rate below retail prices. Plan members may opt to access out-of-network providers, but usually at a greater cost.
When you buy vision insurance, you receive the following benefits:
- Access to a network of providers, including optometrists and ophthalmologists, eyewear stores, optical laboratories and LASIK surgeons
- Routine, preventive eye care services at reduced rates
What Kinds of Vision Insurance Plans Are Available?
Vision insurance typically comes in the form of either a vision benefits package or a discount vision plan.
Typically, a vision benefits package provides free eye care services and eyewear within fixed dollar amounts in exchange for an annual premium or membership fee and a relatively small co-pay (fixed dollar amount) each time you access a service.
A discount vision plan, on the other hand, provides eye care and eyewear at discounted rates after you pay an annual premium or membership fee.
In some cases, a vision benefits package or discount vision plan may also include a "deductible" a fixed dollar amount you must pay your eye care provider out-of-pocket before the insurance benefits take effect.
Both kinds of vision insurance can be custom-designed to meet the requirements of a wide range of customers, including school districts, unions, and big and small companies.
Vision insurance generally covers the following basic services:
- Annual eye examinations
- Eyeglass frames
- Eyeglass lenses
- Contact lenses
- Discounted rates for LASIK and PRK
Generally, services acquired from network providers cost less than services from out-of-network providers.
Also, a reputable vision insurance company should have a quality assurance mechanism to answer your questions and help you resolve any disputes or issues you have with a vision care provider in your plan's network.
What Does Vision Insurance Cost?
Vision insurance costs vary, depending upon how the program is designed. Costs also may vary based on your state of residence.
As an example, one nationwide vision insurance provider offers the following 2011 rates for individual (non-group) vision insurance plans to New York residents:
Vision Benefits Package
- Annual membership: $170.95 for singles; $428.95 for families (includes $10 one-time enrollment fee)
- Routine eye exam: covered in full (after $15 co-pay)
- Eyeglass lenses single vision and lined bifocals or trifocals; polycarbonate lenses for children: first pair covered in full (after $25 co-pay)
- Eyeglass frames: up to $120 benefit, plus 20 percent off any out-of-pocket expenses (after $25 co-pay)
- Contact lenses (instead of glasses): $120 allowance for cost of contact lens exam, fitting and lenses
- Other discounts: 20 to 25 percent discounts for eyeglass lens options and extra pairs of glasses (including sunglasses)
Vision Discount Plan
- Annual membership: $69.50 for singles; $149.50 for families
- Routine eye exam: 20 percent discount
- Eyeglass lenses (single vision and lined bifocals): 20 percent discount
- Eyeglass frames: 25 percent discount
- Contact lens exam fees: 15 percent discount
- Laser vision correction: 15 percent
- Non-prescription sunglasses: 20 percent
It's a good idea to comparison shop several vision insurance providers to make sure you get the best value for the eye care benefits you desire.
Typically, you pay for group vision insurance through payroll deductions or flexible spending accounts (FSAs).
An FSA, sometimes called a cafeteria plan, allows an employee to use pre-tax dollars to purchase selected health benefits such as vision insurance. You save money because you pay for the policy with income that has been set aside for health costs and is not subject to taxation.
If you purchase an individual vision insurance plan because you are self-employed or your employer does not offer vision insurance, you can expect to be billed monthly or annually.
[Page updated March 23, 2015]