Is Vision Coverage Worth the Cost?

by Travis Pizel · 33 comments

It’s commonly said that there are two things you can count on: death and taxes.

For me, you can add signing up for health insurance every October. I log into my employer’s benefits website and open the document that compares my medical plan options. This part usually requires a little thought, as the plans change from year to year, and I want to make sure I pick the one that fits my family’s needs the best.

My vision insurance is a little less complicated: either I enroll in the one plan offered, or I don’t. I usually click the enroll button immediately, concluding that having insurance certainly must be better than not. But is it?

I’ve never done the homework to determine if my employer’s vision coverage saves me money.

With a stack of “Explanation of Benefits” statements that I received from my family’s recent trip to the optometrist, I decided to dig in and figure out if my vision coverage was saving me money, or if I was turning a blind eye (pun intended) to throwing my money away.

The Costs and Benefits of Vision Insurance

I signed onto my employer’s benefit portal and found that I pay $35.60/month for my family of four to have vision coverage, totaling $427.20 annually.

My vision plan provides the following benefits each calendar year:

  • Comprehensive eye exam: At the eye clinic we used, this exam costs $70. For my family of four, this saved us $280.
  • Eyeglass frames: Coverage up to $120. With two sets of frames purchased, this amounted to $240.
  • Standard lenses: Standard lenses are covered in full, while optional features (such as anti-reflection and ultra-thin material) are discounted. Looking at my explanation of benefits, our insurance saved us $170 on the two sets of lenses purchased.
  • Contact lenses: My son got contact lenses, which would’ve cost $108 without insurance.

In total, our insurance saved us $798 on exams, frames, lenses, and contact lenses.

Which means for 2014, my insurance really saved us $798-$427.20=$370.80. This puts concrete numbers behind what I’d already guessed: my vision insurance is worth the cost.

But it’s nice to know for sure.

Do you have vision insurance? Have you ever calculated whether it’s really worth it?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Bev says:

    We had vision coverage a couple of years ago and I found thay even with the discount, we did better at Costco. And yet now, very same insurance is covering scleral contact lenses (they are medically necessary). I would not have signed up for the insurance . . . It was an employee benefit. I am incredibly grateful.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I’ve heard that the vision department at Costco is very reasonable – we joined signed up for a year membership so we’ll have to check it out more closely. thanks for the pointer, Bev!

  • Vision is included in my union insurance, it’s dental that I always have to consider separately. Though I’m going on the exchange in June, so that’ll be another ball game altogether.

    • David Ning says:

      Make sure to shop around then Stefanie,

      And don’t assume you’ll always be better off with insurance either. Price things out as that’s the only way to come out ahead!

    • I’m glad David mentioned to price things out and ensure insurance is worth it….that’s exactly why I went through this exercise as I wanted to make sure I was getting the most for my money! Maybe we’ll see a blog post from you on it later this year…eh, eh, eh???

  • We have a vision coverage and we need to renew it yearly. For me, it’s very helpful because I got a problem in my eyes, my last vision was 70/70 and now it’s already 200/250.

  • I had it every other year since I didn’t get a new pair of glasses every year anyway. The plan only cover one frame every two years, so I had it for one year, got the frame, cancelled it for one year, signed up again the following year.

  • Phil says:

    I suffer from hearing loss, but my vision is fine. It ticks me off that I buy others’ glasses but there is no support for hearing aids.

    There are two factors that create this situation 1) a higher percentage if people have vision problems than hearing problems, and as a human race we are naive and selfish and we “vote” ourselves money (thinking we are getting someone else to pay for our glasses, dental care, etc.). And 2) hearing aids cost much more money. Only 20 percent of people who would benefit from a hearing aid wear one. And the #1 reason is due to high cost.

    I think insurance should be removed from the work place altogether. It would create a more competitive environment to save us all money. Just like car insurance. And with those extra dollars in my pocket I could actually start saving for the hearing aids I want, which are $7000 a pair.

    • David Ning says:

      Wow I didn’t know that hearing aids could cost $7,000. Maybe that’s why my mom told me she’s not getting one when I asked her about it a week ago.

      But you just need to pay for hearing aid once, unlike glasses where the prescription changes right?

      • Liz says:

        Fellow hearing aid user here (and I also wear glasses/contacts). Hearing aids need to be replaced every 5-8 years or so as the device wears/breaks down and the technology improves. Don’t know about Phil but my hearing loss is worst at the highest frequencies and newer hearing aids bring in more of that sound.

        I’m lucky in that my hearing loss has been level since it occurred at age 2 but some people have progressive or sudden worsening of a current loss that could require a more powerful device than they originally purchased.

        Current pair of hearing aids are 8 years old and go through batteries quickly. Planning on $4000-6000 to replace them and saving for that with an HSA as my employer (small business) cannot add hearing aid coverage. I testify every two years in my state for a bill that would mandate such coverage but they don’t want to pass it for adults, just children up to age 21.

        • David Ning says:

          Thanks for sharing your experience Liz. Hopefully someone will invent a hearing aid soon that won’t break down/wear out, so the only reason to buy a new one is if someone wants the newer technologies.

    • I believe hearing aids are covered under my medical insurance….but it’s not 100%. I’m also surprised at the cost…that’s CRAZY!

      • Phil says:

        There is some insurance that covers some cost, but it is usually not enough and you have to go through their preferred hearing aid provider. But if that is not the best set of aids for you…best start saving.

        There is some good news. This guy is trying to disrupt the overpriced hearing aid industry with $200 aids!

        http://hearingmojo.com/ihear-hd-hearing-aid/

        • Travis Pizel says:

          I hope it catches on, Phil…there’s no reason why getting hearing aids should be so expensive!

    • Andrew says:

      While Health and probably Dental would do well, Vision and I’d imagine Hearing insurance would actually do pretty poorly in a free competitive market. They really aren’t ‘insurance’ anyway; they’re more like negotiated discounts. I know I need contacts every year. I don’t need ‘insurance’ for that, they’re fixed costs. There is nothing to ‘insure’ against; it’s a 100% certainty. Literally the only way they are making money is by betting people won’t use their benefits by the end of the year.

  • Slinky says:

    Next year we’re swapping my husband over to my insurance and we’ll probably also just pay for eyecare out of the HSA. In order to cover him, I’d also have to pay to cover me, and like John’s wife, I have Superman level vision. The numbers aren’t nearly as good when you’re paying twice the cost for just one person. Why isn’t vision insurance per person?

    • David Ning says:

      The insurance companies need to make money somehow, and the best way for them to do so is to keep plans from being too flexible. Otherwise, everyone will only get it when they benefit and the whole scheme collapses.

      On another note, have you asked about discounts for people without insurance? Many places offer discounts if you pay them cash and I find that it’s cheaper to buy a pair of glasses when I need them than to pay for insurance for two or more people.

      • Slinky says:

        Vision is one of those things that you should really just self insure for anyway. It’s a fairly predictable periodic expense that isn’t astronomically expensive. The only reason to insure is if you know you’ll come out ahead. I’m assuming the insurance company’s margin on vision is pretty low and mostly due to people that end up not using it for one reason or another. I’m perfectly happy contributing to the systematic collapse of vision insurance by opting out.

        I will certainly ask for a discount once we switch my husband over to my plan though.

        • David Ning says:

          Insurance in general jacks prices up for everybody since consumers aren’t as sensitive to every purchasing decision, allowing companies to keep prices elevated. So I’m happy if insurance, especially for non-catastrophic areas like vision, goes away.

    • I hear you, slinky. Dental is where I need that the most – in order to get orthodontic coverage (which my daughter needs soon), we need to bump my whole family up to the better dental insurance – which of course makes it not worth the cost.

      • Slinky says:

        Ugh. Orthodontic coverage. Don’t even get me started. I’ve been saving up for braces in my HSA for ages! That’s all out of pocket for me since I’m an adult.

  • Nice work on the savings Travis! I had vision coverage through a previous employer and it wasn’t as good as what you were able to save. But, then again, my wife has like Superman vision so it’s only me that needed the coverage. 🙂 Now, we just pay for my eye care stuff through our HSA.

    • David Ning says:

      Same here. I need glasses but my wife has that Superman vision you are talking about. I see a pattern here. Maybe it’s what they eat, or those massage sessions they talk about is secretly for their eyes!

    • In my case, I’m the one with Superman vision. LOL. I’m the only one in my family that doesn’t use corrective lenses. Once the kids leave home we may have to reassess though. Thanks for your comment!

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