As of October 2017, there were roughly 52,000 vision care locations that participate in at least one PPO network, in the NetMinder database. According to the Vision Council of America, 3 out of 4 Americans need glasses or contact lenses. If the population and the vision care locations were evenly spread out across the country, each location would serve about 4,800 people. Of course, they aren’t which makes the rise of online eyeglass and contact lens purveyors inevitable.
Buying glasses and contact lenses online has become simpler.
Wherever you decide to purchase your glasses and/or contact lenses, you need a prescription and an eye exam from an optometrist or ophthalmologist to get started. To buy online, you upload your prescription and other pertinent information and then move on to shopping.
When you shop online for glasses, like anything else, you can get a lot of information without going anywhere or talking to anyone. There are many more style, color, and other option choices than you’ll find in a brick-and-mortar store. And you can save money: Consumer Reports estimated savings of up to 40%. On the flip side, you could get the wrong prescription or glasses that don’t fit correctly since you might need to measure your own pupil distance. It might also be hard to return the glasses. And you might not be able to use your insurance. WebMD summarized the pros and cons of shopping for glasses online here.
Shopping for contact lenses has similar pros and cons although since disposable contact lenses have been widely available for a long time, mail order retailers, such as 1-800-contacts, have been part of the marketplace longer. Demand for lenses that change eye color and other fashionable products has grown the market further. There are more factors to consider when purchasing contact lenses in general that require the assistance of an optometrist or ophthalmologist. WebMD summarizes them here.
Can you use vision insurance when you shop for glasses or contact lenses online?
Sometimes. You can always use the funds in your FSA or HSA. Some accounts have debit cards to pay directly while other plans require reimbursement. Some online vision retailers are in-network with vision PPOs and will accept benefits while others are out-of-network and will provide a detailed receipt to support reimbursement.
We looked at some online retailers to learn about their policies. Here’s what we found:
- A few retailers are In-network with some carriers. Members can access benefits online.
Warby Parker – glasses only
Glasses.com - glasses only
Contactsdirect - contact lenses only
- Most online sources for glasses and contact lenses are out-of-network with all carriers.
Felix + Iris
Coastal - glasses and contact lenses
Vision insurance doesn’t get as much airtime as medical and dental insurance in general. However, a significant percentage of people with insurance have coverage. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate 58% of people with private insurance have optional vision coverage and 44% of people with public insurance have optional vision coverage.
Online retailers have made inroads into the market. How do they fit with your vision network? How do you compete with other networks that include online retailers if yours doesn’t?