Friday, November 14, 2008

My Vision Plan Sucks! And Here's Why

So guess where I didn't go yesterday? The eye doctor! After scheduling the appointment, I received a call back from the office. Here's how it went:

Rip Off Doc: You are scheduled to come in tomorrow and use Crappy Vision Coverage, is that correct?
Sallie's Niece: Yes that's right.
Rip Off Doc: Well our records show that you were here in January of 2007 and you are only eligible for an appointment once every two years.
Sallie's Niece: Well I really need some new contact lenses, can I place an order for them?
Rip Off Doc: No, I'm afraid your prescription is only valid for one year.
Sallie's Niece: Alright well I need to come in for an exam then. How much is it gonna cost?
Rip Off Doc: It's $90 for just the exam.
Sallie's Niece: See ya next year!

I did a little digging and here's what I discovered.

The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act was passed by Congress in 2004 to broaden the consumer's access to contact lenses. It requires prescribers of contact lenses to give patients give patients a copy of their contact lens prescriptions at the end of a contact lens fitting, even if the patient doesn’t ask for it. You can then take that prescription around to another seller, including online sellers like 1-800-CONTACTS.

During the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee meeting, Robert L. Hubbard, Director of the Litigation Bureau at the New York (my home state) Department of Law, also a chairman of several task forces related to the legislation testified:

Unlike most physicians, eye care practitioners sell what they prescribe.
Thus, individual ECPs derive substantial revenue from the sale of
replacement contact lenses and have an economic incentive to
withhold prescriptions from customers to prevent consumers from
shopping for replacement lenses elsewhere.

In light of that incentive and the power of ECPs over prescriptions, the bill helps
give consumers what they need to make their own choices about
where to buy replacement contact lenses.

So the law passed and now you're supposed to get a copy of your prescription. Do you? I've never gotten one. And it's no matter if you don't because if you call 1-800-CONTACTS they will verify your prescription for you with your original doc. Yay. Right?

Nope. Big fat lie. According to, we have to read the fine print:

Congress was heavily lobbied by optometrists during its consideration of the
measure, and those able to read the fine print will discover that in 42 states,
optometrists can refuse to pass along a prescription if it is more than a year
old. The limit is two years in the other eight states.

Thus, while optometrists may have lost their grip on the sale of contact lenses, they have gained an annuity that will keep patients coming back once a year to renew their prescriptions. There are 36 million contact lens wearers in the U.S. At about $100 per exam, that's $3.6 billion in guaranteed revenue for the

So this is very interesting to me. I mean it's sorta my job to ponder the law all day long and the way it is implemented. But here's a situation where the law is at odds with the medical community, at least the insurance community. My vision plan has decided they will only reimburse a new eye exam every two years. Yet the law in my State requires me to make such a visit every year. Who's right? I don't know. I do know that I'm not paying $90. But many of you will and I'm sorry this law sucks so much.

My solution was to go in on a bulk order with Boyfriend who coincedentally has the same prescription as me. I paid him $20 and will get one of his eight boxes ordered through an online retailer. It was either that or wearing my glasses.


Miss M said...

That's cool you can share with your BF. I didn't know it was a law they had to give you your prescription. My doc requires you buy lenses through her, now I know she can't do that! Next time I'm asking for my prescription, I think she overcharges.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's cool that you know that much about the vision world. I just went to a doctor and picked out a pair of glasses. I'm sure I was overcharged too. Hmmmm.

Shtinkykat said...

Thanks for this post, Sallie. I was planning to get new glasses this year when last year I was told my VSP plan wouldn't pay since I used it to get contacts the year prior. Anyhoo, I looked at my prescription and discovered it was over a year old. When I called the optical store (at my optometrist's) she said she'll make an exception and will accept my old prescription. Phew! But this is great info. Thanks for doing my homework!

mysticdomestica said...

Eek! There's a rock, and that's a hard place.

I haven't had a vision plan for years and usually (unfortunately) just use my glasses for as long as they'll hold out for. Before I found the place I go to now (they include an eye exam with every eyeglass/contact lens order), I used to tag along with my mom to Costco. Some of their stores have in-house optometrists, and you can get an eye exam and get a written prescription for $50 or under. Not as cheap as co-pay, but better than $90!

Jim ~ said...

We knew about this particular one and always get a copy of the prescription from the eye doctor. That way we can go over to Walgreen’s where it's much cheaper than paying nearly double at the eye doctor. To me though $90 seems typical for a regular eye appointment considering it's a once a year cost. Figure $7.50 a month to ensure you can see clear, it doesn't have to break you.

Anonymous said...

I too have vision problem & I'm using contact lens through 1800Contacts for it.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, I could have written your post! Since I only wear contacts occasionally, one box will last me 6 months to a year. I just finished up a box a few weeks back, and it was the box I ordered at my last appt, over a year ago. When I called to order a new box, they informed me that my prescription was over a year old, and I needed to come in for an appt, and unfortunately, my vision care only allowed one appt. every 2 years. So, needing the contacts, I had to pay OOP for the appt. Guess what? My prescription didn't change - and it hasn't changed in 5 years! I was so aggravated by this. And I was not offered a copy of my prescription by the doctor. I'm seriously considering a different eye doctor.

undercover vixen said...

just as an fyo for next time - 1800 contacts doesnt actually verify anything. I've ordered tons of time.. put in the vision place i went to a while back..and just picked any doctor... it got shipped to me..hmmm mayb i should post this in an email instead...