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Compare vision insurance

This coverage cuts down the costs of basic eye care expenses, like exams and glasses.

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Vision insurance is optional, and it helps to cover the costs of routine and preventative eye care. It bridges the gap between what your health insurance covers and out-of-pocket costs, and most plans don’t have a deductible you need to reach before receiving benefits. A policy typically offers coverage for routine eye exams, and discounts on glasses and contacts for the roughly 75% of Americans who use vision correction, according to the Vision Council of America.

How to compare vision insurance policies

When you’re shopping around for vision insurance, narrow down your options by asking these questions:

  • How much is the premium?
  • Does the policy cover an annual eye exam?
  • Is there a company for basic eye services?
  • What’s the benefit cap?
  • What’s the allowance for frames and contact lenses?
  • Can I get new frames every year, or is it once every two years?
  • Is there an allowance for bifocal, trifocal and specialty lenses?
  • Does the policy cover pre-existing conditions?
  • Does the policy cover lens enhancements, like anti-glare lenses?
  • Is my eye doctor in my insurer’s network?
  • Where is the nearest in-network provider?
  • Do I need a referral to see an out-of-network eye doctor?
  • Is there a waiting period?
  • Does the plan have an enrollment fee?

How much does vision insurance cost?

You can expect to pay around $17 per month for an individual vision insurance policy, according to Vision Service Plan (VSP) — the biggest provider in the US. This comes to $204 a year.

You may pay more if you choose a plan with a larger network of eye doctors, or if you live in a state with higher vision insurance rates.

Some insurers charge an enrollment fee when you sign-up, so account for this when considering the total cost of the policy.

What does vision insurance cover?

Vision insurance usually covers basic preventative care, including annual eye exams and vision tests. Unlike health or dental insurance, vision insurance benefits don’t always reset every 12 months. Your insurer might only pay for a new pair of glasses up to a certain dollar amount or once every 12 to 24 months.

Your policy may also pay for a portion of these vision correction expenses:

  • Eyeglass frames
  • Prescription lenses
  • Lens enhancements, like lightweight or nonreflective lenses
  • Contact lenses

What’s not covered by vision insurance?

Vision insurance is designed to cover key eye-care expenses. It doesn’t apply to these costs:

  • Enhanced lenses, like progressive, trifocal, transition, nonreflective or impact-resistant lenses
  • Metal eyeglass frames
  • Medications, like eye drops to treat pink eye or glaucoma
  • Medically necessary surgery, like surgery to remove cataracts
  • Eye treatments for diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration
  • Some policies offer discounts for elective procedures, such as LASIK or PRK surgery — but these aren’t usually covered entirely by vision insurance.

How to get vision insurance

You can buy vision insurance year-round in most cases, and there are a few ways to get coverage:

  • Sign up for a policy through your employer. Many employers offer vision insurance as part of their workplace benefits package. Your premiums will be subsidized, making this a cost-effective option — but you’ll need to opt in during open enrollment.
  • Add a vision rider to your health or dental insurance. Depending on your insurer, you may be able to add coverage for routine eye exams and get an allowance for prescription glasses and contacts. But you might have to meet a deductible to access these vision benefits.
  • Purchase a standalone policy on your own. To get the best coverage at the lowest price, take the time to compare policies from a range of vision insurance companies. By going directly through an insurer, you’ll be able to customize your benefits.
  • Apply for coverage via the Health Insurance Marketplace. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you can apply for a low-cost health insurance policy that offers vision coverage through the government. To explore this option, head to Healthcare.gov.

How does vision insurance work?

When you sign up for vision insurance, you’ll pay a monthly or annual premium to maintain your coverage — and policies last at least 12 months.

Depending on the plan you have, you may need to pay a small copay when you visit an eye doctor. But vision insurance is unique in that you don’t need to meet a deductible before your insurance company steps in. Instead, your insurer will offer a set amount of money to put towards the costs of preventative eye care — like eye exams — and prescription eyewear. This is known as the benefit amount or allowance.

Every policy has a benefit cap, which is the maximum amount you can spend. If you reach that number, you’ll pay for any other eye care expenses or services out-of-pocket until you renew your policy. So, if your insurer has a $100 allowance for glasses, but you want to buy a pair that costs $400, you’ll pay $300.

Some plans require you to see an in-network doctor, which means your insurance company won’t cover the bill if you go to someone out-of-network. You can find out how flexible your plan is by reading through your policy documents.

Do vision insurance policies have a waiting period?

Generally, no. But some policies have waiting periods ranging from 30 days to 36 months, which means you’ll receive few to no benefits from your policy during that time.

From an insurer’s perspective, the purpose of the waiting period is to encourage people to buy vision insurance before they have expensive eye care needs.

Which type of vision insurance is right for me?

Most vision insurance policies are set up as PPOs, but HMOs and Indemnity Plans are also available. Their differences come down to costs and flexibility with out-of-network providers.

Type of planHow it worksCostIn-network onlySpecialist referrals requiredBest for
Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO)Pick any dentist and get discounts for going in-network
  • In-network dentists are cheaper
  • Usually no copays
NoNoFlexibility and no copays
Health Managed Organizations (HMO)Visits to your primary dentist are covered, though you might need to work or live within the service area
  • Lower premiums
  • Copays for visits
YesYes — your primary dentist will refer you to an in-network specialistAffordable in-network care
IndemnityPay the same price for going to any dentist
  • Higher premiums
  • No negotiated bill discounts
NoNoSee any doctor for a higher cost

Vision insurance glossary

These are the key terms you may come across when shopping for vision insurance:

  • Allowance (aka benefit amount). The amount of money your insurer allocates to specific eye-care expenses.
  • Benefits. The services and expenses covered under your vision insurance policy.
  • Benefit cap. The maximum dollar amount your insurer puts towards eye-care expenses while your policy is in effect.
  • Copay. A set rate you’re charged for specific eye-care visits or services. For example, you might pay a $10 copay for an eye exam and $25 for a contact lens fitting.
  • Enrollment fee. A one-time fee some insurers charge when you sign up for a policy.
  • In-network provider. An eye doctor that’s partnered with your vision insurance company to offer services at pre-negotiated rates.
  • Limitations. The restrictions associated with your plan.
  • Optometrist. An eye doctor who’s licensed for primary eye care. They can perform exams and vision tests, treat conditions like nearsightedness and prescribe glasses and contact lenses.
  • Ophthalmologist. An eye doctor who specializes in medical and surgical eye care.
  • Out-of-network provider. An eye doctor who isn’t tied to your vision insurance company and so doesn’t offer discounted rates.
  • Out-of-pocket costs. Eye-care expenses that aren’t covered by your insurer, including copays.
  • Premium. The monthly or annual fee you pay in exchange for vision coverage.
  • Routine care. Eye care exams and other services that help maintain eye health and diagnose issues before they become serious.
  • Waiting period. The time you’ll need to wait before you can access certain eye-care services.

Is vision insurance worth it?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. While vision insurance is an inexpensive type of coverage, its value comes down to your eye health and financial situation.

If these situations apply to you, a vision insurance policy could cut the costs of your eye care significantly:

  • You need glasses or contacts
  • You need corrective vision surgery
  • You have a family history of eye disease, like glaucoma
  • You have a medical conditions that increases your risk for eye disease
  • You’re over 60
  • You’re looking into an elective eye procedure, like LASIK

On the other hand, you may not have as much of a need for vision insurance in these cases:

  • You have HSA or FSA dollars to spend
  • You have a robust health insurance plan
  • You have the savings to cover your annual eye exam and new glasses or contacts.

How much are opthalmologist visits if I’m uninsured?

These are the average costs for common eye care services, according to Fair Health and VSP. This will give you an idea of how much you could save with vision insurance.

  • Eye exam: $152
  • Eyeglass frames: $238
  • Basic single vision lenses: $113
  • Refractive vision test: $46

Alternatives to vision insurance

If vision insurance isn’t the right fit, consider these alternatives:

  • Look into a vision discount plan. These plans work as memberships, and they have a network of participating providers. You’ll pay a monthly or annual fee to qualify for discounted rates on eye care products and services, and you’ll pay the provider directly. The discounts typically range from 15% to 35%. While the premiums are lower than that of vision insurance, the coverage is limited.
  • Pay out-of-pocket. If you have the savings to self-insure and don’t anticipate any major eye problems, you can choose to pay 100% out-of-pocket. But know that you won’t have access to the prenegotiated rates and discounts that come with vision insurance and vision discount plans. Most eye doctors accept cash, debit card and credit card payments.

Bottom line

An optional policy, vision insurance can help to offset the expenses of eye care and services — like eye exams, glasses and contact lenses. The coverage is on the cheaper side, but if you have healthy eyes and don’t need prescription eyewear, you may be able to skip it.

If you’re interested in vision insurance, compare policies to get the coverage you need at an affordable price.

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