Cut eye-care costs

Here are tips for buying budget-friendly frames and lenses

Your blurry vision is telling you it’s time to visit your eye doctor, but your wallet is blinded by the prices glaring from the walls and showcases in your local optometrist’s office. Is there any relief in sight?

Getting your eyes examined on a regular basis is probably the most important cost-saving strategy. "People should come for their regular checkups so things don’t become so advanced they need more specialized care," says Dr. Diane Adamczyk, chief of primary care services at the State University of New York State College of Optometry. According to Dr. Paula Newsome, optometrist at Acusight Eye Associates in Charlotte, North Carolina, patients should get their eyes examined on an annual basis, particularly if they are African American, because they "are more prone to glaucoma than others."

Another strategy is to familiarize yourself with your employer’s vision plan. In the past, patients primarily paid for the cost of their visits themselves, but Newsome says 55% to 60% of today’s patients are covered by some type of vision insurance. Whether you’re covered or not, you should become more aware of what you’re paying for and the services you receive. A basic examination could start at $60. A low-end pair of glasses-consisting of frames, lenses, tint and coating-averages $225, according to the Vision Council of America (VICA). "Designer frames vary from $140 to $600," advises the organization’s spokesperson, Carol Norbeck. If you wear contacts, you can expect to pay about $110 for an examination. The lenses will run you about $21 for a box of six disposables to as much as $360 annually for toric lenses (used by people with high-level astigmatism). Says Norbeck, "You get the most savings on eyewear by being an educated shopper."

Shopping outside the national chains or private practices can also reduce the cost of your eye care. "If you don’t have much money but you want good care, then I strongly recommend that you go to a school of optometry," suggests Dr. Peter Shaw-McMinn, assistant professor at Southern California College of Optometry and a member of the Better Vision Institute advisory board. The prices charged by these schools are often half as much as a regular doctor’s fee. He says, "Some schools will even pay you to be a patient, depending upon your condition." Just remember the process will take a lot longer because they’ll run more tests than usual.

"When you go to a chain such as Sterling Optical or a private office, you’re dealing with a licensed optometrist. But when you go to a school for treatment, you might be examined by students who are training for their licenses," says Newsome.As far as shopping for eyewear through the Internet or from mail-order firms is concerned, McMinn believes there is more to these firms than meets the eye. "They require you to buy a large supply of contact lenses," he warns. "If your prescription changes, you’re stuck."

And don’t ignore the discount retailers, such as Costco

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