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Smarter Way to Buy Contact Lenses?

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Q: I love my contacts, but I am never quite sure how best to order more when I am running out.  I see online ads, store ads, and my eye doctor prefers I buy from them...can you help sort this out?

A: This is such a messy topic, and glad you asked! While the FTC has regulations about how online sellers can supply lenses to their customers / our patients, the rules are commonly ignored.

Number one, your contact lens prescription is valid for one year. Glasses have no such expiration date. Contacts are regulated as other medical devices by the FDA and the FTC because they physically sit on your eye surface and could potentially cause damage. Online sellers are not legally allowed to sell you more lenses past the one-year expiration date, and are required to verify your prescription with your eye doctor...but they commonly ignore those guidelines.

As eye specialists, we strongly recommend having your eyes examined each year when you wear contacts. Quite often, we find early signs of corneal damage because the lenses are not a precision “fit” for your eyes. Lenses that do not match the shape of your eyes can cause corneal swelling and abnormal blood vessel growth. We usually can find these problems before you have blurred vision or pain...if we can examine your eyes annually.

As for costs, most professional offices ( like ours ) these days just match the “going rate” for big sellers like 1-800-contacts. And these days, most offices ( like ours ) also offer online ordering 24/7 on our practice websites. The biggest surprise for most patients is to learn that the contact lens labs charge differently for different quantities, and they provide different rebates, depending on where you order.

All the lens companies incentivize you to buy your full annual supply by charging less per box for that quantity. They also all offer rebates for your lens purchase...but rebates also vary by the provider. This means that online sellers and retail stores have rebates, but the biggest rebates are always offered only through your eye doctor’s practice. These rebates are commonly not used by my patients, but are significant...ranging from $40 to $200!

Lastly, most contact lens we see have some sort of a vision plan, besides their health insurance. These vision plans generally offer significant cost savings for patients. Most commonly, I see those vision plan discounts to run between $100-$150 for your year’s supply. Other vision plans are structured so that you only pay a co-pay of $60, or thereabouts, for your annual supply. Admittedly, the vision plans ( and there are many! ) make the calculations fairly complicated. I do not personally deal with those issues in our practice, but most offices will have staff who routinely manage these plans every day to obtain your lowest cost.

The bottom line, when you have your next annual eye exam, take the time to have the staff run through the numbers to be sure you get the best value.