Joel Hunter, MD Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 07/09/17 7:14 PM
Vision insurance is a separate entity from health insurance that covers general eye care. It’s kind of like dental insurance in that they both have the same last name as health insurance, but are smaller with less responsibilities. At a medical insurance Thanksgiving, Vision and Dental would sit at the kids’ table with their glasses and perfect, healthy teeth.
Since there’s a narrow range covered by a specialty insurance like vision insurance, the question of whether or not it’s worth it comes down to whether you’ve got the problem it seeks to fix. For the wide swath of the American population that needs to see an optometrist once a year to get a new set of contacts and (slightly less often) glasses, vision insurance is super helpful. It works by paying a couple hundred dollars once a year to get large discounts for the costly process of getting new prescriptions.
That visit to the eye doctor that might normally be $100 or more becomes a steal at something like $10. A new pair of glasses, that could cost $150 all the way up to something infuriating like $600, might cost a tenth that amount with vision insurance. It makes the routine, annual expense of having—through no fault of your own—subpar eyes become significantly less burdensome.
The keyword here is routine. Most insurance is thought of as an in-case-of-emergency kind of expense. With vision insurance (and coincidentally, its cousin who always carries a toothbrush, dental insurance) the idea is usually the opposite. These are expenses involving a known, predictable, inconvenient money drain. It’s annoying enough having to drag yourself to the eye doctor so that he can say your eyes are healthy and renew the same contacts prescription you’ve had for the last eight visits. It’s nice not to add a couple hundreds of dollars of cost as an extra punch in the neck. So, for folks who have an annual routine, and need to get their routine exam for their routine glasses or contacts, vision insurance is pretty great.
Life isn’t always routine though, is it? There are two big ways to break out of the routine. One is terrible and the other is fantastic. The terrible break to the routine occurs when something bad happens to your eyes. They’re vulnerable, those eyes of yours, and honestly it’s kind of amazing that eyes don’t get into trouble more often. But when they do, there’s a whole world of troubles to explore. Whether it’s an injury or glaucoma or pink eye or a corneal ulcer caused by contacts—or one of a thousand other shocks that flesh is heir to—vision insurance won’t help. In those situations when you need to fix something, it’s like having a large toolbox filled only with glasses. Luckily, most people who have vision insurance also have health insurance of some kind, which can step in as the adult in the room and help you through. Dental insurance, not wanting to be left out, will offer you his toothbrush.
The other break in the routine is quite the opposite. I hate to state the obvious (unless it’s a really fun obvious statement), but you don’t need to pay for glasses if you don’t need glasses. After LASIK, or refractive lens exchange or cataract surgery, one of the questions people will ask is, “Do I still need my vision insurance?” And it’s fun because their face usually has some combination of a furrowed brow and a smile. I don’t tell people what to do with their insurance, but I really, really cherish being able to tell them for the first time, “Well, you won’t need to buy contacts anymore.” Vision insurance is worth it if you need it, but for most people it’s worth even more to not need it at all.