The time has come once again where my eye care coverage has reached its two year anniversary, which means my wife and I are in the market for new eye wear.
My work health plan insurance covers 90% of the cost up to $300, including up to $130 for the eye exam itself, leaving $170 to go towards a pair of eyeglasses. (same coverage for my wife.)
So I head out to scout the regular outlets, Lenscrafters, Hakim, and a few "no name" outlets, recalling from previous years that this was going to be an exercise in frustration trying to get a decent pair of specs that only cost me a couple of hundred dollars out of pocket.
The usual "run around" consists of picking out a set of frames for $150 - $200 (unless I want to pick a real ugly $99 set from the bargain bins,) listening to a speech about all the lenses options and coatings, trying to explain to them that I just want the very basics and can't afford all the fancy coatings, and in the end still being handed a bill for over $400.
Of course, insurance will pay $170 of that, but still, after both myself and my wife are finally fitted, I'm stuck with an "out of pocket" bill of over $500 for two sets of less than desirable glasses.
Well, after two weekends of hitting the optical outlets and not seeing anything that looked like a decent bargain, I decided to do a little searching on the Internet, hoping to find that maybe there would be a discount outlet in the area where I could at least buy a set of decent frames for a reasonable price and have the lenses installed by some optician and maybe save $100 or so ... well, I didn't find any local discount outlets, but I did find what seems to be a much better solution.
After a few minutes of googling I came across a site called "Glassyeyes.com Shattering the Eyeglasses Scam". Exactly what the doctor ordered (or more exactly, what the eyeglass doctor hoped you would never find out.)
At Glassy Eyes you'll find reviews, comments, and helpful hints for purchasing eye wear online, as well as links to several online eye glass outlets where you can find decent prescription glasses (even bifocal progressives) for under $100, if you can find frames that suit your sense of style, and there are lots of selection, so everyone should be able to find something they like.
Of course you can go higher than $100 if you wish, and as a quick comparison I took a pair of frames that were obviously better than my current frames on my progressive bifocals (which I paid near $500, frame and lenses, about 4 years ago) and added my prescription (and a pair of clip on sunglasses as my original glasses came with a set) and the cost came to $147 .... I added all the special coatings and made the lenses "high index" (thin lenses) and the price still only came to $235 .
At these prices, if I pick reasonable frames, without the unnecessary coatings and tints, I could probably get two or three sets (a progressive bi-focal set for every day usage, a reading set for computer work, and a single vision "myoptic" set for playing sports and such ) and still come close to staying within the cost that my health plan will cover.
I haven't actually ordered anything as yet, but I do plan on doing so in the next couple of weeks (after I get an eye exam and get me latest prescription,) so look for updates on my on-line optical experiences.
Note: I called my health plan insurance company and they say they will cover the costs as long as the glasses are dispensed by a licensed Optician, I called a few places and most of them do have a licensed Optician so that should not be a problem.
Another issue could be whether the insurance covered purchases done outside of Canada ... I had originally had the idea that as my wife was heading overseas to visit her family this summer, that we would purchase the frames in Canada and get the lenses installed overseas where the prices are quite similar to what I more recently found online. A couple of weeks ago I had contacted my insurance company to see if they would still cover the me if I bought the frames and lenses separately and in different countries, and they said as long as everything was dispensed by a licensed Optician there would be no problem.
Of course, not all health care plans have the same coverage, and yours may have more restrictive rules, so if you have eye care coverage on your health insurance plan you should definitely contact them before ordering your own glasses to make sure you are covered. Even if you''re not covered for on-line eyeglass purchases, it may still be more cost effective to take the full hit of the cheap online purchase rather than paying "retail" at a "brick and mortar" outlet and getting insurance to reimburse some of the money. In my case, for example, I get covered for $300. After a $130 eye exam that leaves me with $170 to cover my glasses. If I buy online I can get the equivalent of my current glasses for about $150. If I go to Lenscrafters they charge me about $400 (closer to $500, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt,) $170 of which insurance will cover. That still leaves me out of pocket at least $230 (of course since my insurance covers the online purchase anyway then there's no question as to which way I will go ... 3 pairs for free, or 1 pair for $230 ... hummm, what a hard choice!!)
For those looking to stay within Canada for their ordering you can try http://www.clearlycontacts.ca/ They also have a licensed Optician and do contact lenses as well.
Update Oct 8th, 2008:
So eventually I got around to ordering a pair of glasses for myself (progressives) and the wife (2 pair; a single vision for near sightedness, and a pair of reading glasses.)
I has previously gone to the optometrist to get an updated prescription, which took about $90 from my bi-annual $300 eye care insurance limit. The wife already had her's done recently over seas for maybe $10 cdn, so she had her full $300 to use. My glasses cost around the full $210 I had left, and the wife's 2 pairs cost about $210 or so, so she still can get another pair of cheap glasses if she wants.
We ended up using http://selectspecs.com as they had the styles we were looking for (ok, the styles the wife was looking for ... what do I know about "style"?)
The glasses arrived in about 3 weeks, which is the time frame they originally gave me, and kept me up to date on the status with several emails through out the process.
So far so good. We've been wearing these new specs for about 2 weeks now with no problems.