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Vision Insurance – Worth the Cost?


For most of my life, I have not had vision insurance, and never missed it.

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the only doctor that looked at my eyes was the family general practitioner (who actually came to our house for the visit!). All he ever did was shine a light in my eye and have me read from the eye chart. Luckily, I never needed glasses in my childhood and young adult years.

Most everyone will need corrective eye wear or surgery at some point in their life.

As most people do, when I hit my forties, I started to need glasses. Neither my husband’s nor my insurance plans covered vision insurance as part of the regular policies. So, I signed up for the additional vision plan at an extra cost at work for one year. It added about $150 to my yearly expenses and I thought that it would cover pretty much everything I needed – eye exam, contacts or glasses with frames and lenses.

Cost of eye exam, contacts, glasses & lenses.

Of course, as with anything, costs change due to inflation and vary by the actual product that you want and need.

I have gotten perfectly good eye exams (performed by optometrists) at big box glasses stores, such as Lens Crafters for about $30. I’ve also gone to local optometry offices for exams for much higher prices.

Did you know that optometrists can tell if you have cholesterol just by examining your eyes? Did you know that your normal medical doctor can still also perform an eye exam?

Contacts can range in price from $100 to $400 a year, according to site “What it costs”.

I tried contacts when I first needed glasses in my forties. Since I needed both near and distance correction by then, the first pair I tried just made me dizzy as they made pretty much everything somewhat fuzzy. The next pair I tried was the kind where you put a distance lens in one eye and a near lens in the other. I was trying them out to see if I could get used to it because I was considering lasik surgery to do the same for real to my permanent vision. I couldn’t get used to it. The third pair I tried worked OK for both near and distance, but by then I had dry eye and couldn’t stand to keep them in all day. They would be fine in the morning but by late afternoon I would be wanting to scratch my eyes out! So I swallowed my vanity and went to glasses.

Glasses from an optometrists are priced in multiple parts and at multiple price points.

Frames are priced separately from lenses.

Frames can be designer, super light weight, plastic, metal or other material and can vary by how comfortable (i.e. flexible) they are. There are also frames that have those fitted clip on sunglasses. You can pay more based on your preferences. This year, at my optometrist, I saw frames ranging from $100 upwards to $300.

Lenses have multiple price points.

You can get lightweight (polycarbonate), super lightweight (trivex), regular weight (plastic) or heavyweight (if you ask for it but doctors don’t recommend – actual glass). You can get single prescription, bifocal or trifocal. You can get lined or unlined, tinted or not tinted, anti glare, mirrored or ultraviolet lenses. You can get special lenses for extra bad eyes – high index plastic lenses. You can get spherical lenses that have more usable area and don’t make your eyeballs look humongous (aspheric). You can get those lenses that change from clear to shaded when you move in and out of sunlight (photochromatic) and you can get polarized lenses for your sunglasses. You can get multiple levels of scratch resistance as well.

When I got new glasses and sunglasses this year I was shocked at the prices. I got estimates from three different eyeglass shops, but they were all high priced for what I wanted.

  • The frames I liked were all about $150 per pair.

The lenses I wanted broke down as follows for my regular glasses – at the highest priced glasses shop:

  • Progressive (no lines) for my tri-focal prescription $320
  • Polycarbonate (so they would be lightweight as I can’t stand heavy glasses) $60
  • Anti-glare $120

So the total price for the lenses alone would be $500!

With the new frames I would have been out of pocket $650 plus tax for just the one pair of glasses without the cost of the eye exam, or getting new sunglasses.

Insurance does not cover it all!

We had planned to get new glasses this year. It has been about 6 years since either my spouse or I had an exam or new glasses and things were starting to get a little fuzzy, scratched and loose on our heads!

Because we planned it, we added vision coverage through my hubby’s insurance – at a cost of about $150 a year extra.

About the only thing this covered was the eye exam and one pair of frames for each of us. Much of the lens costs were not covered, because I wanted progressive and anti-glare.

Our insurance covered only one pair of frames and lenses for each of us. I needed sunglasses as well.

I did end up with a brand new pair of regular glasses and frames, for which I paid about $250 out of pocket. The insurance covered all but $35 of the frame cost and all but $100 of the progressive cost and all but $40 of the cost of the anti glare.

I re-used my sunglasses frames (because they were perfectly good and the insurance only would cover one pair of frames for me). The lenses for the sunglasses were also progressive but not anti glare or polycarbonate. The charge for the progressive lenses and the polarization combined for an out of pocket charge to me of $285.

Hubby had his eye exam but has refused to get new glasses or frames after seeing what mine cost!

So, total eye care costs so far this year for us has been:

  • $150 – insurance
  • $20 – co-pay for both of our eye exams
  • $285 – my sunglasses
  • $250 – my regular glasses
  • $705 – total.

Was it worth the cost of the insurance?

Probably. We didn’t lose money – it paid for most of our eye exam and a good part of one pair of lenses.

However, I found out that I could have received a free eye exam from Lens Crafters. I’m not convinced that the local optometrist gave me any better of an eye exam than the optometrist working in conjunction with Lens Crafters would have.

I could have re-used some existing frames.  I could have really ignored vanity and gotten the lined lenses, saving supposedly about $320.  I wouldn’t have done without the anti-glare or the lightweight material, as I have had glasses without these and just couldn’t even bear to wear them, they were so uncomfortable – so I would still have been out the $180 for that. I paid out of pocket for my sunglasses even with insurance. So, with all of the above, my glasses would have cost me about the same amount as they did with the insurance, but I would have sacrificed some of the features I wanted.

Next year, we won’t be getting the extra vision insurance. We won’t be needing glasses next year (unless hubby decides to get some new ones).

If you have insurance as part of your medical plan, use it. If you have a health spending account or a flexible spending account that lets you use the money on eye exams and corrective vision, use that. Think carefully about buying extra vision insurance – make sure it covers what you need, otherwise it will not be worth the cost!

What is your experience with vision insurance?

This post has been written by Marie from Be sure to visit her site if you’ve enjoyed this post!

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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Health/dental/vision insurance is one of my benefits. I do not pay anything for it. One of the few positives as a teacher since I have only had one raise in 10 years. I use my flexible spending account to pay for my medical expenses.

    • That sounds like pretty good benefit levels – you have absolutely no out of pocket expenses for any of the three?

  2. You make a very good point in that if you are not planning on getting an eye exam and/or glasses, then don’t pay for the vision plan. So many people carry vision insurance and only get an exam every few years. Also, progressives vs lined bifocals are not just cosmetic. Lined bifocals have no area for computer use, so you have to lift your head up to look through the bifocal. If your job is based on computer work, lined bifocals would be like a professional athlete buying shoes at WalMart.

  3. I had one employer with great vision insurance according to the glasses place and it still wasn’t that good. My eyes don’t change often so the insurance isn’t worth it to me. Make sure to do your own calculations based on your circumstances before making a decision.

  4. I’m an optometrist.

    Here’s the thing: insurance is to indemnify you against a loss. Example: you get cancer, and you’ve lost your health. You may have many thousands of dollars in treatment costs.

    With vision problems (myopia, astigmatism, etc.) there is definitely a high risk of loss, but the loss is not very expensive. An eye exam is under $100 and glasses can cost a couple of hundred.

    An individual vision care plan is really not insurance–it’s pre-paid vision care. You pay in about $200-300 and you get back about the same in cash benefits. You break even. (Now, if you have a large family, then I think vision care plans may work for you.)

    In essence, with vision care plans, you a paying for the right to get vision care at a hefty discount. You do not insure yourself against risk, like health insurance.

    If your employer pays for the plan, then you’re smart to use it, and it is tax-free (not reported as wages). But all benefits should be considered against the money your employer may have paid you, instead.

    • Great comment Jeff! I agree 100%.

  5. These are very good points and I think that having an eye care budget can be most helpful in this case.

    • Very true. Thanks for the comment Dana!

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