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The eye care medical field has an unusual split between two different types of insurance for covering eye issues: health insurance and vision insurance. Not all patients have both.

In most cases, your health insurance is used to cover medical and surgical eye problems but not routine exams or the cost of contacts or glasses. Those things are often covered by separate vision insurance.

Why the difference? Originally, health insurance was created to take care of health “problems” and wasn’t designed to cover “routine,” “screening,” or “wellness” exams.

Since health insurance wasn’t going to cover “routine” eye exams, the vision insurance industry arose to help insure/cover those routine exams as well as the costs of glasses and/or contacts if they were needed.

That dichotomy now often causes great confusion when you make an appointment at your eye doctor. When making your appointment, the office is going to need to know which insurance, if you have both, you are going to be using for this particular visit.

Why does the office need to know in advance which insurance you are using?

The main reason is that the rules and sometimes the providers are different for each insurance plan. The vision plans often require the office to check on your availability for coverage and get pre-authorization for the visit BEFORE you get to the office. There are also differences in which providers within an office are in network for the insurance. For example, in some practices the optometrists might be in all the vision plans but the ophthalmologists might not in those plans. If you make an appointment with one of the ophthalmologists and tell the office you are using your health insurance you can’t change your mind the day of the appointment and use your vision insurance instead.

There are also differences in what the insurance will cover as a reason for the exam.  Vision insurance typically covers ONLY routine exams. Those are exams during which you are coming in specifically to get your vision, glasses and/or contact lens prescription checked and get an overall eye health screening.  That means you CAN’T have a medical complaint about your eyes you want the doctor to deal with. Eyes itchy? Need to use your medical/health insurance.  Dry eyes? Need to use your medical/health insurance.  Have a cataract? Glaucoma? Macular Degeneration? Need to use your medical/health insurance.

Why not just use your medical insurance all the time? That’s mostly because if you have no complaint at all your medical insurance won’t cover that visit (and “my vision is a little blurry” usually won’t cut it).  There is one other issue and that is the refraction.

A refraction is when we check to see if you need a new eyeglass or contact lens prescription. For the most part, health insurance won’t cover the fee for the refraction, which is a procedure that is separate from your eye health exam. Your vision insurance will cover the refraction but not the exam if you are having a medical problem.

Here’s the real kicker. Your health insurance will cover your medical eye problems and your vision insurance will cover your refraction, BUT you can’t use both insurances at the same visit. It has to be one or the other.  (Ridiculous right? I didn’t make the rules, just trying to abide by them.)

So, what are your choices if you have both a vision plan and health insurance? If you have a problem, you need to use your health insurance. If you want to have your eyes refracted so you can get new glasses at the same time you can either pay out of pocket for the refraction OR you can come back in for a second visit, using your vision plan to get a refraction and eye health screening exam so that the refraction gets covered. (Again - I didn’t invent these rules--I am just trying to help you navigate them.) If you don’t want to make two visits, then use your health insurance (with the appropriate complaint) and pay for the refraction and just use your vision insurance to help pay for the actual contacts or glasses you are going to buy.

If you have a question, it’s best to ask when you call the office to inquire about an appointment.

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

 

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Ask Dr. Stewart Your Eye Care Questions

What can be expected during a contact lens fitting?

A patient can expect to have a different experience when having a contact lens fitting. In addition to the eyeglass exam, questions will be asked to determine which contact lens will work best for them. Will they want to leave the lenses in their eyes overnight or will they remove them every day? Will they wear them only occasionally or will they be for everyday use? Do they want a contact lens that they throw away every day or do they want a contact lens that they have to clean and disinfect? If the patient is over age 40 and has a compromised ability to see up close, how will they see up close with their contact lenses? Will they wear readers over their distant contacts, or will they wear multifocal contacts, or will they wear monovision?

Are some people more prone to having Dry Eyes than others?

Experiencing dry eye symptoms is more common as we grow older, particularly in people 50 years of age and older. Hormonal changes in women who are experiencing menopause or who are post-menopausal. Inflammation in our body can affect the tear gland's ability to produce tears. Eye or health conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren's Syndrome can be associated with Dry Eyes. Environmental conditions such as dry winter air, dry indoor heated air, working on the computer, and wearing contact lenses can cause Dry Eyes.

Are there advantages to single-use contact lenses? What are they?

Single-use daily wear contacts are convenient to the patient and a healthy recommendation from their eye doctor. At the end of the day, the patient only has to dispose of the contacts. There is no need to take the contacts out to clean and disinfect them. The patients time and money spent on solutions and caring for them are eliminated. Not to mention that the next time they wear a contact, they will be wearing a brand new contact! The single best recommendation your eye doctor can make is to recommend single-use daily wear contacts. They are the healthiest contact that can be worn. The contact lens pathology issues of wearing the same contact for two or four weeks such as neovascularization, microcystic edema, and bacterial infections are greatly reduced.

What is an eye infection?

Your eyes can get infections from bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Eye infections can occur in different parts of the eye and can affect just one eye or both. Two common eye infections are conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) and lid styes which are swollen lid bumps that can also be painful. Common signs of an eye infection are pain, itching, or a sensation of a foreign body in the eye, photosensitivity, redness or small red lines in the white of the eye, discharge of yellow pus that may be crusty upon awaking, and tears.

What happens during a typical Diabetic Eye Exam?

Your Eye Doctor will evaluate the back of your eye called the Retina to check for leaking blood vessels. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when elevated blood sugars damage the walls of the blood vessels. The vessel walls may thicken, leak, develop clots, close off, or grow balloon-like defects called microaneurysms.

My eyes tear all the time. Why do you call it Dry Eyes?

Your eyes have extra tears because your eyes produce extra tears to combat irritation and dryness. A better way to describe Dry Eyes is tear film instability, which refers to the composition of your tears not being in the proper composition. Stopping eyes from producing extra tears is a goal in the treatment of Dry Eyes.

At what age should my child have his/her eyes examined?

If you ask 10 different Doctors you will get 10 different answers. Newborns have their eyes checked in the birthing ward for starters. From birth to age 5 their eyes are growing. At age 5 is a good time to schedule a regular eye examination, however, if any unusual eye behavior is observed under age 5 an eye exam should be scheduled at that time. Unusual eye behavior such as eye squinting, a head tilt, or having to get close to see.