Updated March 25, 2019: You’re probably pretty aware of your health insurance. Whether it’s provided by your employer or you purchase it on your own, it’s helpful to keep in mind how much it costs and what it covers.
But what about your vision insurance?
Most insurance products you hope to never use. Health insurance, outside of preventative care coverage, only comes into play when you need medical assistance. Auto insurance is really only useful when you’re in an accident. Term life insurance...well, it’s not even for you – it’s for your family, and you hope they’ll never need it.
But dental and vision products are different. A lot of coverage plans are discount plans. And while health insurance covers costs associated with eye diseases or accidents, you’ll need a vision plan if you want to share the costs of regular maintenance, like eye exams, glasses and contacts. (We cover everything you need to know about dental insurance here.)
There are a lot of vision plans out there, and a lot of retailers where you can use them. It’s often an unrequired but helpful product that some people may disregard. Do the savings you’ll get outweigh the cost of the plan? Is vision insurance worth it? Here’s our guide to help you decide.
The quick takeaway on vision insurance plans
Vision insurance isn’t legally required, like health insurance or car insurance, and it isn’t necessarily a critical part of your financial safety net, like life insurance. But like other insurance products, you should judge your coverage need based on your usage. You can take this insurance check-up test to figure out how much insurance you really need.
A few things you’ll need to keep in mind when selecting your vision insurance:
The basics you need. Eye exams, eyeglasses, and contacts are some of the staples of eyecare. But the discount or allowance you receive will depend on the plan you choose. You’ll also have to decide where you’ll get these items; as you’ll see, the frames and lenses may be separate costs at some retailers, and you’ll be able to get contacts at some retailers but not at others.
Additional enhancements. Glasses seem pretty straightforward, but when you get into progressive lenses, trifocals, transition lenses (that turn from cool guy sunglasses outdoors to bookworm standard glasses indoors), anti-glare lenses, impact-resistant lenses, metal frames, and more, you can see that there’s a lot out there. Bells and whistles will often cost more, and they may not always be covered by your plan.
Elective procedures. Most medically-necessary concerns are covered by your health insurance, but nice-to-have procedures like LASIK and PRK fall under your vision insurance. These can be pricey and your plan almost certainly won’t cover the full cost, so see what coverage you get before you elect to go through with them.
Our test subjects
In order to give you the best idea of whether or not vision insurance is for you, we broke down the options by three insurance plans and three retailers.
Our three retailers are Warby Parker, LensCrafters and Oliver Peoples. These represent the full gamut of pricing tiers available for eyewear. Warby Parker is made affordable by design and is pretty straightforward in terms of offerings; LensCrafters is a little more robust, offering a variety of enhancements, as well as contacts; and Oliver People is the most expensive.
We focused on four central areas of cost at each retailer: the exam, frames, lenses and contacts.
The three insurers we chose are Humana One Vision Focus Plan, Blue View Vision Coverage, and VSP Standard Plan. These represent three of the largest vision providers, and though we’re focusing our coverage on a 30-year-old male in the New York City area, they’re providers that consumers across the country should have available to them.
To give each insurance offering a baseline, we compared them to the full retail cost of buying the same care out of pocket.
Warby Parker: Cheap & online
Warby Parker provided the overall cheapest vision options, which is no surprise: the company was founded in 2010 to be cheaper than traditional eyeglass retailers.
Surprisingly, the barebones nature of Warby Parker makes it the only instance of vision insurance potentially raising your costs. All-in prices start at $170 for an individual and $510 for a family of three. Since the frames are already relatively cheap, basic lenses are included with frames, they don’t offer contacts, and their exam ($75) is significantly cheaper than the national average of $200, there aren’t many savings to be had. In many cases, buying the same options in conjunction with vision insurance is more expensive than paying out of pocket. However if you need contacts or any more advanced options, you’re out of luck here.
LensCrafters: A midrange retailer
LensCrafters is a one-stop-shop for all things eyecare. They offer multiple types of eye exams, a range of frames, different lens types, and contact lenses. That also means there’s a wide range of costs; for both individuals and families, the highest totals are nearly double the lowest totals, depending on the options you choose.
While LensCrafters is more expensive on its own than Oliver Peoples, the costs quickly come down once you take insurance plans into account. With Blue View Vision Coverage, even the most expensive options are 55% cheaper than they are without insurance and 22% cheaper than similar insurance coverage (and with more options).
Oliver Peoples: Upscale & pricey
Oliver Peoples’ starting frame price is around triple its competitors, it doesn’t offer exams or contacts, and lens prices are included with the frame – but prescription lenses may cost more.
But if you want to go for high-end glasses, using your vision insurance is crucial. Individuals can nearly cut their costs in half with VSP coverage, although family coverage costs are more even.
Tips for evaluating vision insurance
These charts provide a good high-level view of what vision insurance can do for you, but there are specific things you should keep in mind when you’re looking at different plans.
Determine how often you use eyecare services
Health insurance is important because illness or accident can strike at any time. But vision insurance isn’t usually as immediate. You need to take into account annual plan costs, and see if the savings you receive add up to make it worth the cost.
Take Blue View Vision Coverage: a $130 allowance for frames and $20 copay for basic lenses is a pretty good deal! Humana offers a $100 allowance for frames and a $25 copay on lenses, but costs almost $180 a year. The savings may not make sense if all you’re using your vision insurance for is a pair of frames and lenses.
One thing to keep in mind is that vision exam coverage can be valuable. Besides telling you just how blind you are, eye exams can provide an early warning for diabetes. These exams might not justify buying eye insurance on their own, but keep their value in mind when deciding if the insurance is worth it.
Consider how often you receive allowances
On a related note, know how often you receive allowances. Frame and lense allowances may only renew every 24 months, so you won’t be able to get subsidized glasses every year. That might not be a huge issue for individuals – two years is probably the minimum amount of time you’d need to buy new glasses – but for families, a single pair of glasses may eat up your full allowance, leaving you to cover costs for the rest of your family out of pocket.
Know what services retailers offer
We focused on the services offered by Warby Parker, LensCrafters, and Oliver Peoples because hassle is one of the biggest deterrents for people to use (or even shop for) insurance. Many consumers might see value not only in their individual insurance plan, but also in being able to go to LensCrafters and cross everything off their list, rather than having their exam done in one place, going to Oliver Peoples for their frames, and then needing to get contact lenses at a third location.
If you’re looking for lens enhancements, you also need to be aware which retailers offer what you’re looking for and which ones only offer basic services.
If you don’t anticipate using your vision insurance very often, you may be able to self-insure: whenever an issue arises, you can simply pay out-of-pocket for any expenses. Here's are some tips on how to cut out out-of-pocket medical expenses.
If you don’t think vision insurance is worth it but you still want some assistance, look into flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). These are tax-advantaged accounts, meaning they’ll lower your taxable income in April, and they can be used on qualified healthcare purchases – including eyeglasses, contacts, and eye exams. With the amount that you save on your tax bill, it may be a more budget-conscious decision than vision insurance.
Overall, it can be hard to offer an apples-to-apples comparison of vision insurance plans because retailers offer different services and products and the value you find in a plan depends on what you’re going to use it for.
Still, this should give you a good idea of what you should look for in a plan depending on your shopping habits. Vision insurance may not be a necessity for you, but it’s something to look into if you’re looking to protect your budget – and your peepers.