Smart Money Tips

Is Vision Insurance Worth It? Weighing the Pros and Cons.

  • Vision insurance offered through an employee benefits package is often very low cost and helps pay for items such as routine eye exams, glasses, contact lenses, preventative procedures, and some emergencies
  • A plan helps you pay for things that a health insurance policy does not cover
  • Some people buy discounts plans or choose to go without vision insurance, so you have to decide what’s right for you

With so many different types of insurance coverage options out there these days, it can be hard to figure out what you need and what you can do without. Vision insurance often falls in the middle ground. While premiums are often dirt cheap when offered through a large employer, premiums and copays can be higher if you are buying coverage on your own. Also, if you rarely have issues with your eyesight and your family history is clear of major conditions, you might consider bypassing vision insurance altogether. 

Let’s dig into the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing a vision insurance policy and describe what all it covers.

What Is Vision Insurance? 

Vision insurance works similarly to any other type of insurance. You pay monthly premiums, often through your company’s payroll, and are entitled to certain benefits. Among them are discounts on eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses. Like other insurance plans, you should be sure to review which offices and doctors are in your network so you can get the best deal. Some policies require that you see a certified and licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist. 

There are two common insurance types:

(1) plans that pay a pre-specified percentage discount and

(2) coverage that pays a capped dollar amount per service or qualifying expense.

Additionally, many vision plans offer discounts on laser surgery or help you pay for elective procedures like Lasik.  Keep in mind that enrollment in some plans is not offered every 12 months like health insurance.

Shopping Around for a Plan

What’s great about vision insurance is that it will not set you back much financially. Typical plans cost anywhere from $5 to $40 per month in premiums for individual coverage – and some employer-sponsored insurance policies cover 100% of premiums. Determinants of the total cost include variables such as the benefit type, where you live, and your age. 

If you’re going through annual open enrollment, the amount you are responsible for might seem trivial, so many people just sign up without a second thought. Of course, costs increase when you add a spouse or family members to the plan as well as tack on additional coverage options. 

Still, you want to consider what you think you might spend each year on your eyes, including the risk of what could go wrong – it is insurance, after all. If you can’t get vision insurance through your job, you can check out several of the major insurance companies (VSP Vision Care, EyeMed, UnitedHealthcare, or Humana) for quotes or on sites like

What You’ll Save On with Vision Insurance

Health insurance – including Medicare – may not cover things like routine eye exams, specialty and preventative procedures, corrective lenses, and other charges related to your vision. Thus, the onus is on you to make sure you can pay for them. While there are discount plans available for people who do not have frequent eye issues or costly vision needs, vision insurance is usually a better choice if you expect to have somewhat significant yearly expenses.

Vision insurance can save you on eyewear, offer discounts on some laser eye surgeries, and provides allowances to reduce your overall out-of-pocket expenses. It’s routine to be able to be reimbursed through allowances when you buy glasses or contact lenses every year or two. 

For example, if you have a vision insurance plan with a $150 yearly allowance on glasses, and you pay $200 for new frames, then you can save 75% on that expense. A basic plan that might cost just a few dollars per month might feature a flat percentage discount on all products and services, perhaps 25%, so in that scenario, you would save just $50.

Common Expenses Covered

While each plan varies, eye exams, preventative services, surgeries, some elective procedures, glasses (and frames) and contacts can all be covered or at least feature some kind of financial allowance. Be sure to review total costs and covered products and services when deciding on a plan. Also, consider what doctors and service providers are in-network. Qualifying expenses and reimbursements typically work differently compared to health insurance, too. 

What Vision Insurance Will Not Cover and Other Limitations

First, chronic eye conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts are usually covered only by health insurance. Next, a vision plan might not help with costs for specialty glasses with proverbial bells and whistles. Another limitation is that your plan may only cover the retail markup of the cost while requiring you to shell out the wholesale price. What’s more, restrictive policies might separate eyeglasses from contacts, forcing you to choose between one of the product types for it to be considered a qualifying expense. Keep in mind, too, that there could be a waiting period of four to five weeks before coverage begins – plan accordingly!

Is it Worth It? How Much Does It Cost?

An eye exam might run you $150 to $200 these days with prescription glasses, including frames, costing a few hundred dollars (but you can save a ton by shopping around online for glasses). So, if you simply do an annual eye exam and purchase glasses or contacts, you can expect to doll out upwards of $500 per year. Vision insurance could help with about half that amount when it’s all said and done. Of course, if you have other procedures or face an emergency, the costs (and vision insurance savings) can be greater. Moreover, if you have a family, then a policy can be even more valuable.

Still, if you don’t have eye problems and your family history is solid, vision insurance might not be worth it.

Other Options to Pay for Vision Costs

A common alternative to vision insurance is an a la carte discount plan which limits you to choose from a specific network of providers who have agreed to certain discounted prices for select products and services. Discount plans might only apply to certain areas of the country, though. It can be a cost-effective choice for those who do not run up large annual vision-related costs, but if you have frequent needs, then it’s probably not a good deal for you.

Like dental insurance, if you feel comfortable paying for all products and services out of pocket, then you can always bypass vision insurance altogether. While health insurance is very important to maintain, it’s usually not a catastrophic risk to go without vision insurance. You can visit retailers such as Walmart and Costco and receive reasonably priced exams and glasses or contacts. Also, be sure to check out online stores like Zenni Optical which offer super-low-cost glasses.

Finally, your Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can help cover vision care costs. You can always track your qualifying HSA expenses, save receipts, and reimburse yourself later in life to allow your HSA investments to grow.

The Bottom Line

Vision insurance is not something to fret over. The cost through your employer is usually quite low. Plans often include monthly premiums and exam copays, while featuring discounts or allowances on preventative exams, eyeglasses, contact lenses, and coverage for vision-related surgeries.