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The NetMinder Blog

Expanding Your Vision Network With Online Retailers

Posted by Laura McMullen on Wed, Mar 28, 2018

glasses.jpgAs 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 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

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?

Tags: vision market, optical retail, Vision insurance, vision networks, contact lenses, eyeglasses

Retail Chains In Vision Networks

Posted by Laura McMullen on Fri, Mar 10, 2017

I just saw an article about Walgreens piloting an optical shop at one of their stores in Chicago in Drug Store News. Walgreens already sells reading glasses and contact lenses already so why are they adding more services now? 

glasses_contacts.jpgThe vision care market is all about the materials. According to the Vision Council of America, three out of four Americans need glasses or contact lenses. The cost of glasses ranges widely depending on a consumer’s preferences and prescription. CostHelper Health reports a national average of $196 with lows starting at $8 for drugstore “cheaters” to highs of $600+ for designer frames with special lenses and coatings. All About Vision estimates that contact lenses cost “roughly $220 to $260 for a year's supply of lenses and another $150 to $200 on contact lens solutions, for a total annual cost of roughly $370 to $460 to wear contact lenses.”  

These costs make insurance attractive to consumers. The CDC estimates 58% of people with private insurance have optional vision coverage and 44% of people with public insurance have optional vision coverage. And vision networks are growing – here’s a summary of some trends that we’re seeing in NetMinder 

A unique component of vision networks is retail chains. In NetMinder, we define these chains as having at least 4 locations with or without an ophthalmologist or optometrist on site. When analyzing vision networks, we found that nearly 20% of locations in national vision networks are part of a national retail chain with the largest concentrations in the WalMart, Lenscrafters, and Vision Source brands.  

And this is where Walgreens comes in. Retail chains account for more than half of the revenue in the vision market even though they are only one-third of the locations. The brands are popular and heavily advertised and some competitors, WalMart and Target, area already in the market. Walgreens has more than 8,000 stores in the US and, as of August 2016, 76% of the US population lives within 5 miles of one.  

How does this potential new retail network affect your network? Is it a prospective partner? A competitor? 

Tags: vision market, optical retail, Vision insurance, vision networks, vision discount plans

Growth Trends Continue in Vision Networks

Posted by Laura McMullen on Thu, Jan 12, 2017

Each year, we analyze the vision network data in our database and publish the results. Take a look at what we learned last year. Like 2015, 2016 brought growth across the board in the 10 largest vision networks: more providers in more networks that look more alike.

top 10 vision 2016.jpgOver five years, access points grew the most, 50%, followed by unique providers at 32% and unique locations at 13%. Two possible reasons for the lag in location growth is that retail locations, such as big-box stores and wholesale clubs, offer more revenue with fewer providers and online options to fulfill eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions are increasing.

The average number of locations per provider remained about the same year over year – 2.36 vs. 2.32. This is probably a reflection of network consolidation: Superior Vision completed the integration of the Block Vision network late in 2016.

Another measure of growth that we’ve been tracking for several years is the number of networks the average provider participates in. On average, providers belonged to 3.6 networks in 2016, which is slightly down from 3.7 in 2015, and an increase of 17% in the last five years. Eye care providers (ECPs) belong to less than half the number of networks as dentists (8.3 networks in 2016) which is most likely another reflection of the consolidated nature of the vision market compared to the dental market.

vision per provider 2016.jpgThe final trend we analyze is the distribution of providers by the number of networks they participate in. In 2016, 35% of ECPs are in 4-6 networks while only 23% were in 2011. The shift from accepting 1-3 networks to 4-6 for ECPs leads to greater overlap between vision networks causing less disruption if employer groups opt to change networks.

How are these trends affecting your business? When you talk to ECPs, are they more interested in joining your network than they have been in the past? How are you maintaining the uniqueness of your network?

Tags: vision market, Vision insurance, vision networks, practicing locations

Changing Supply and Demand for Eye Doctors

Posted by Laura McMullen on Thu, Sep 11, 2014

Recently, the American Optometric Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, along with a number of vision industry leaders, commissioned the Lewin Group to conduct a study of the eye care workforce and create a computer model to continuously study supply and demand for eye care providers. AOA and ASCO leaders called the study “the most ambitious, comprehensive and forward-looking study of eye care supply and demand ever undertaken” in the release announcing the study. To get the National Eye Care Workforce Study go to (registration and fee required).

The study reports the same three factors that are driving demand for overall healthcare services are affecting the demand for vision care services:

  • The U.S. population is aging and its vision is deteriorating.
  • Diabetes is more prevalent than ever.
  • The ACA expanded the health insurance market and required vision coverage for children.

eye drThe National Eye Care Workforce Study reports an oversupply of optometrists and ophthalmologists through 2025. However, other experts frame a shortage.

One interpretation of the current market shows the supply of eye doctors is growing to meet the increased demand:

  • The supply of eye doctors is increasing. Three new optometry schools graduated their first classes in 2013 and another one will open in Kentucky in 2016. Every year 1,350 new optometrists graduate while 420 retire, according to a presentation Richard Edlow, OD, gave at the Integrated Ophthalmic Managed Eyecare Delivery program in April 2013. Some eye doctors postponed retirement until the U.S. economy rebounded, so the retirement rate will increase as the recovery continues.
  • Eye doctors could see more patients and keep their current schedules. Optometrists surveyed by the Lewin Group as part of the study reported that they could increase patient capacity by 32%, or 933 visits, annually without adding hours or days to their schedules.

Another interpretation shows that supply shortages are on the way while demand is growing:

  • More women are becoming eye doctors. “Fifty percent of ophthalmology residents are female, and 64% of optometry graduates are female,” Dr. Edlow said in his presentation. “Every study indicates that women work about 85% of a full-time employee. If we take this into account, we have 51,000 eye doctors, and we’re going to need 65,000.”
  • Eye doctors are working fewer hours. Most work 40 hours weekly as opposed to 50-60 hours weekly in the past.

The National Eye Care Workforce Study provides a snapshot of the current situation overview and also created a computer model to evaluate the workforce at future points in time. As time goes on and other factors come into play, the supply and demand picture will ebb and flow.

According to NetMinder, the industry standard for vision provider network comparisons, managed vision networks continue to grow, indicating strong demand from consumers and employers for access to vision care.

What do you see in your business?

Tags: NetMinder, vision market, Vision insurance, ACA, consumer choice, network comparisons, vision networks

How Will ACA Affect Managed Vision Care Network Models?

Posted by Aaron Groffman on Tue, Aug 13, 2013

As healthcare reform continues to take shape and the market becomes even more consumer-centric, insurance companies need to make sure their networks are in line with what customers want. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will create new market opportunities  both inside and outside of exchanges  for vision providers and insurers.

For example, the public exchanges will require all medical plans to include pediatric vision coverage, potentially increasing the number of people who will get regular vision exams. On the other hand, ACA could mean that standalone vision plans will appear more often outside of the exchanges because public exchanges might exclude ancillary plans. Voluntary vision coverage tends to be a popular benefit with employees, however, so it’s unlikely that these plans will be going away anytime soon.

What types of plans do consumers prefer? Our research shows that managed vision care plans have to include a mix of independent eye care professionals (ECPs) and retail chains in order to win over consumers. So the next questions are: how are they currently achieving this balance and what are the most common network models?

The three primary types of network models in managed vision care are:

  • Flat organizations contract primarily with ECPs and a limited number of the smaller chains;
  • Vertically integrated organizations, whose networks include their own retail stores as well as ECPs and other retail chains;
  • Hybrid networks have more of an even distribution between ECPs and retail chains

To determine which approach makes the most sense for each managed vision care network, the planning process needs to account for the ACA’s impact (which seems to favor ECPs) and the growing corrective materials market (which seems to favor retail chains).

To learn more about managed vision network models, watch our free webinar: Clearing Up the Vision Market.

Tags: Affordable Care Act, vision market, Vision, Vision insurance, healthcare reform, Managed Care

New Whitepaper Clears Up Changing Vision Market

Posted by Aaron Groffman on Mon, Jul 01, 2013

Clearing up the Vision Market white paperVision insurers, medical insurers and insurance brokers will have a significant opportunity in the coming years as the growing market and changing make-up of vision care delivery impact vision care plans.

Vision care products and services are delivered at more than 47,000 U.S. optical locations, ranging from sole practitioners to mass merchandisers.  The market includes independent eye care professionals (ECPs) and retail chains. Market share indicators and loyalty metrics, such as the Net Promoter Score, show that consumers prefer ECPs for exams, but they more often choose retail chains for frames, lenses and contacts.

It’s clear from consumer purchasing preferences that managed vision care plans will need to include a combination of ECPs and retail chains in their provider networks to service the preventive and routine vision care needs of their clients.  The question is: what’s the right balance? 

To answer this question for your company, you first need accurate provider network data. Gathering and maintaining this information on your own can be expensive, time consuming, and subject to inaccuracy. The good news is we can help. Tracking more than 250 networks from national, regional and local vision, medical, dental, and behavioral plans across the country, NetMinder gives payers, brokers and consultants an objective, consistent, validated source of provider network data to use as they guide their customers in making smart employee benefit decisions.  

Download our new whitepaper, Clearing Up The Vision Market, to learn more about how the vision market is changing and what these changes mean for your company.

Tags: network providers, vision market, Vision insurance, consumer choice





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