No one’s eyes are created the same. A combination of genetics and environmental factors 1 is largely responsible for how well your vision operates as you age, especially early in your life. Some people can go decades without needing any sort of eye correction whatsoever, while others can hardly see without glasses or contact lenses to help them.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2, at least 2.2 billion people in the world - roughly 30% of the entire population - have some sort of vision impairment. In America, about 66% of people with impaired vision have uncorrected refractive errors, meaning they have not visited an eye doctor to receive routine care. More than half of American adults do not seek out eye care due to costs and lack of awareness.
Many cases of vision impairment could be treated with corrective eyewear, making vision insurance advantageous to a large portion of people. But like most plans, vision insurance is best for those who can take full advantage of the offerings they opt into. So how can you tell if vision insurance is right for you?
Healthy Eyes vs. Unhealthy Eyes
Before getting into the details, it’s important to remember that you should always err on the side of safety for your eyes. If you aren’t sure about your eye health, it’s better to side with vision insurance just in case. You never want to take any chances on something as precious as your ability to see.
The first aspect you’ll want to analyze is the current health of your eyes. Suppose you know you already have a pre-existing ocular medical condition. Most vision insurance plans will not help pay for your medical visits to the eye doctor - although they will usually still provide support for eyewear purchases. Any eye doctor visit that is necessary due to an underlying medical condition is no longer considered a “routine” appointment.
Keep in mind that trips to the eye doctor can be labeled medical even if you don’t have an eye-related complication. Other setbacks you might experience elsewhere in the body can directly affect your vision and the status of your appointment as a result.
Assessing Your Lifestyle and Needs
The next component that will lead you to a vision insurance decision is perhaps the most practical: taking a look at your daily lifestyle, habits, and visual needs.
Try to determine how much you might or already benefit from eyewear to help you each day. Do you perform a lot of fine, close work like knitting or reading? Do you use a computer frequently or for long periods of time? Do you drive long distances or work in environments that could be hazardous to your eyes? Maybe you don’t wear any vision correction, but your vision hasn’t been as sharp as you remember.
These are all examples of lifestyles that could benefit from prescription glasses, reading glasses, safety glasses…and ultimately, vision insurance.
The ideal candidate for most vision insurance plans will be someone who pays for glasses or contacts on a regular basis and has a yearly routine eye exam to update prescriptions. Even if you have a medical diagnosis, most vision insurance plans still help with the cost of eyewear and can be beneficial in the long run if you replace your glasses often or have to afford contact lenses.
The financial benefit of vision insurance will also vary depending on other lifestyle factors. For instance, you will likely experience more savings by enrolling in vision coverage for your family of five (where costs can really add up) compared to living single and paying for only one eye exam each year.
Many vision plans are also tailored to meet the needs of self-employed individuals, veterans, and retired workers. For these lifestyles, eye care benefits can often be difficult to come by otherwise.
When Does Vision Insurance Kick In?
Vision insurance typically covers a yearly routine eye doctor visit and any prescription eyewear you need within a set spending allowance. Annual appointments under your vision insurance plan will include a full eye examination, including the possible early detection of glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and even non-eye-related issues like high blood pressure or diabetes. Catching these problems early can lead to crucial follow-ups with your primary care doctor or an ophthalmologist for treatment.
Any appointments that involve a medical diagnosis may use your health insurance plan instead of your vision insurance plan. However, keep in mind you still might save money if your prescription eyewear is expensive or needs to be updated frequently.
Most same-day appointments (which deal with acute eye problems such as sudden eye irritation, foreign bodies, dry eyes, or even conjunctivitis 4) do not use vision insurance either, especially if the doctor prescribes medication or wants to schedule follow-up appointments due to a minor emergency.
Note: in some cases, your vision plan may provide supplemental help for medical insurance costs. However, medical eye care visits will almost always prefer to use your medical coverage as the primary payer.
Making the Decision
Annual eye exams are an important part of your health and wellness routine. Sure, they help ensure you’re seeing and looking your best by keeping your prescription current, but it’s also important to keep in mind that your eye doctor does much more than just a quick vision check.
As we age, our risk of vision problems and other health conditions increases. An annual eye exam can help detect signs of serious eye and other health problems. Such problems could go undiagnosed for years…and sometimes, only your eyes will tell the full story to a professional. A good vision insurance plan helps you stay on top of your health each year in more ways than one.
If you have great vision, you may decide that a vision insurance plan isn’t for you. However, remember that your vision will change over time. If you end up needing glasses, an insurance plan like one through VSP® Individual Vision Plans can help you avoid high, unexpected costs for glasses or contacts.
Lastly, having a vision plan makes it easy and inexpensive to get an eye exam each year. So you can feel good knowing you’re doing your part to take care of your eyes and your overall health.
1 Genetic susceptibility and mechanisms for refractive error
by: National Library of Medicine - National Center for Biotechnology Information, August 2013
2 Blindness and vision impairment
by: WHO - World Health Organization, October 2021
by: AAOA - American Academy of Ophthalmology - EyeWiki, September, 2022