I just spent a tidy sum of money for new eyeglasses.
Wait, that’s only half right. Let me be rephrase: I just spent a tidy sum for new eyeglasses that I don’t technically need. There. I always feel better with a full disclosure. It’s easier than converting to Catholicism.
I’ll explain the “technically” part in a moment. What I wish to highlight though, in addition to my own apparent weakness for optical bells and whistles, is just how much of the American healthcare system is hideously a profit-making machine. Of course I’ve known that for a long time, but it startlingly comes back to me every couple of years when I step outside the familiar swamp of deductibles, co-pays, and those “reasonable and customary” provisos of primary care coverage. Once I enter that otherworld place called vision care, I lose my footing almost immediately.
Vision care is technically healthcare. But its byzantine pricing structure makes it feel more like an online Amazon shopping experience rather than a visit to a medical office. If colonoscopies had as many fun options, I bet doctors wouldn’t have to browbeat people so often to have them. “Can I offer you the apple pie-flavored sedative agent today, Mr. Carter?“
As I mentioned, I didn’t technically need new glasses. The ones that I’ve been using are still fine, and in fact the vision exam I just completed confirmed that my eyesight hasn’t changed much from the one I had two years ago. So I could have skipped the visit to the optical department but for my lovely bride. Yes that’s right, I’m throwing Gorgeous under the bus here. It’s her fault that I now have snazzy new specs.
Until she becomes eligible for Medicare, Gorgeous remains solely covered by the health insurance plan I took into retirement, courtesy of my former employer. To use the terminology of my plan, I am the cardholder and she is the eligible spouse. Each year I am offered the chance to add or drop optional vision and dental coverage, but with a sticky proviso that coverage for me as the cardholder must be included in whatever choice we make. In other words, I can add Gorgeous or not, but she can’t be covered unless I also make that same choice. As a result, we’re both covered for vision coverage this year because she needs new glasses. So yes, all of this is HER fault.
Approximately $13 is deducted from my pension each month for the standard option plan of this insurance. There is a premium high option plan which costs $10 more, but it’s my hope that Gorgeous never learns of its existence.
I could have gotten away with just the eye exam included in our plan. However for an additional $39, I was offered to have retinal imaging taken. This is where they take a digital picture of the back of one’s eye to check for signs of disease or degeneration. If it’s only $39 why doesn’t the vision insurance just cover it? I have no idea, because none of the other tools in optometry offices look like they’ve changed much in the last 30 years. Again, vision care has lots of options, as I bet the snazzy BMW does that I spotted parked in the rear of the clinic also does.
We now get to the “in for a penny, in for a pound” part of my story. After my successful eye exam, I could have happily exited with my eye sight still in reasonably good shape and my wallet only down $39. But I haven’t yet mentioned how much I miss my old eyeglasses from two years ago; the ones with the magnetic clip-ons for driving.
Back in the nineties and early aughts, those babies were available in nearly every optical shop. Each time I got a new pair of glasses, I always replaced them with the same type. Boring yes but oh so convenient. Then… they suddenly disappeared. I kept asking for them at every optical visit. With perspiration gleaming off their money-grubbing palms, with dollar signs illuminating from their stingy eyes, with… — okay, sorry, I’ll get to the point — they instead suggested I buy a pair of sunglasses. Sunglasses! Apparently those pesky magnetic clip-ons were ruining the sales of sunglasses.
The place I chose this time around, a locally-owned vision clinic still has them available for nerds like me. This clinic is also in-network with our insurance provider. Oh, and our tax refund coincidentally has recently been direct deposited.
What? Like I’m going to use it on a fabulous trip at the moment? I’m absolutely positive the CDC would approve of this expense instead.
So, did you know that one company controls most of those fancy brand-name eyeglasses that you see in all of those shops? I didn’t either, but according to a 2019 Los Angeles Times article all those fancy brands such as Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue and Versace are all licensed by this one company, Luxottica. Furthermore, according to the Times article, Luxottica also runs LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Sunglass Hut and Target Optical. Ah-ha. Now we know how the sausage is made.
Truth be told, I have no idea which brand of glasses I ultimately chose. Once I saw that this clinic actually had magnetic clip-ons, I leaped at the opportunity to get them. Monopoly or not, I became a kid in a candy store and was willing to pay for the privilege of having some again. Remember, the CDC wants this for me.
Of course, after you choose a pair you like, then you have decisions to make on all the options which make them fully resistant to the sun, skin cancer, Covid-19, and annual hurricanes. With each option the cost rises exponentially.
High quality progressive lens? Yes! Cha-Ching! $
Glare resistance? Absolutely! Cha-ching! $
Transitions? Of course! Cha-Ching! $
UV treatment? Zero idea what that is, but what the hell. Sure! Cha-Ching! $
The insurance covers $120 towards the lenses, followed by a complicated co-pay matrix on all of the other options for which I’d need Stephen Hawking to help explain it to me. Sadly he’s no longer with us. So I was on my own. Suffice to say I was probably putty in the hands of everyone on down from the eyeglass manufacturer, my insurance provider, and the clinic’s optician. But I nevertheless got my beloved magnetic clip-ons, and they’re still cheaper than that fancy vacation we’re told isn’t yet allowed. So thank you, Uncle Sam.
Until next time…