Vision Insurance is a Scam! Part II
In case you missed part one, I will do a quick recap for you. For starters, I am probably a big dumb ass for paying for Eyemed Vision coverage through my place of employment. So are you if you signed up for it. It is a scam that only allows you to use your full “benefit” towards the retail price of eyeglasses & frames at most Optometry shops. Let’s look closer at this and see how the scam works exactly.
One of the first things I did was to look at the Eyemed website. Here are a few little gems I discovered. This quote is from the Provider Resources page on their site: http://www.eyemedvisioncare.com/provrec/benefits.html
“…EyeMed is committed to supporting your ability to profitably prescribe to your patients needs and wants,…”
Wow. They are looking to help my provider (local eyeglasses shop) make money when they sell me glasses. Hmmmm—already I am thinking that these guys are not looking out for my best interests. The way they provide “benefits” is certainly a dead giveaway.
Just who IS EyeMed Vision? On the phone, I had asked the customer service person if Eyemed Vision is a publicly traded company or not. She didn’t even know what that means (I had to explain), and she didn’t know the answer. As I looked around on the net, I discovered a few things about this company and it really explained a lot.
EyeMed is owned fully by Luxottica. Yes, they are owned by Luxottica—the Italian eyeglass manufacturer. This corporation manufactures many of the major brands of eyeglasses in the world, including Ray Ban, Bvlgari, Burberry, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, Prada, Versace and Polo Ralph Lauren. A complete listing is here: http://annual-report-2006.luxottica.com/marchi_en.asp
Luxottica has been a very hungry corporation, gobbling up companies left and right. Let’s take a look at what else Luxottica owns. One of the acquisitions was Cole National Group, which meant that Luxottica owns Pearle Vision. I know what you’re thinking—they own the “insurance” company, the manufacturing facilities, AND the retail chain? Yes they do. A little checking with the SEC shows that not all of those mergers went smoothly though. Luxottica also wholly owns the Lenscrafters and Sunglass Hut chains. In addition, they have licensed operations under these additional names, and are adding more: Sears Optical, Target Optical, and BJ’s Optical. JCPenneys Optical may also have recently fallen under this umbrella (though I could not find that specific information) as they now answer their phones as "JCPenney Optical, part of the EyeMed Vision Care Network".
I bet you thought those were all different stores, didn’t you? Well I believe you’ve been led to this assumption completely by design, since none of the websites for those different retailers tell you that they are a wholly owned subsidiary or even a licensed operation of Luxottica. Now why is that? One would think that identifying with Luxottica would be a source of corporate pride that you would want your customers to know. One would think it would instill confidence in customer purchases, knowing they are dealing with the “800 pound gorilla” of the eyeglass industry. I mean, surely a company that HUGE would be able to give the most competitive pricing to its customers—right? Unless of course your sole purpose is to deceive customers into thinking they can comparison shop between all those retailers for the best price. Is there anyone else thinking this could lead to price manipulation? Call me crazy, but I think a little disclosure would be nice.
So let’s come full-circle back to EyeMed Vision Care. Some may be thinking that I can just go to a non-Luxottica owned provider and get my glasses there. Well, I could, and I would pay through the nose for eyeglasses there, as EyeMed Vision Care has very cleverly designed restrictions on Out-of-Network Providers and the way they are reimbursed. After all—they have a vested interest in keeping me under the Luxottica umbrella through the entire purchase process—from my “insurance” to my “provider” to the manufacturer of the product I choose. Ultimately, I get an even smaller amount of “benefit” that amounts to $45 for frames and $35 for single-prescription lenses. And remember--the Out-of-Network Providers are in direct competition with the big bad corporate bully Luxottica, whose pricing practices affect the entire industry---well almost.
If there is one thing I am grateful for, it is that Al Gore invented the internet. This little adventure of mine led me to the blog of another disgruntled consumer. Since reading up there, I now have a new plan of action for dealing with the EyeMed/Luxottica scam. From the list of online eyeglass retailers on his blog site, I will be purchasing the exact same glasses for a fraction of the cost, AND I will have the pleasure of sticking EyeMed Vision Care for a big percentage chunk of the cost.
Of course, when purchasing online you have to know exactly what you are ordering and how to order to fit properly. The cool thing is that the eyeglass package that cost $199 at JCPenneys Optical (including my Eyemed "benefits") were found online by my wife for $73, with another $39 for the lenses. Add in UPS shipping and subtract my Eyemed Vision Care Out-of-Network Provider benefit amounts, and we are getting these glasses in name-brand frames for about $41 delivered, or a $158 savings vs JCPenneys Optical.
So since I actually AM going to get reimbursed from Eyemed Vision Care, does that mean the insurance is not a good purchase decision? Well, that depends on how much you are paying for it and how you use it. If your employer provides this to you at no extra cost —that’s great. My employer leaves this as a cryptic combined benefits entry on my pay stub, and I will need to find out what it costs me exactly and crunch the numbers. Using the discount online retailers definitely changes the game a bit, and may even make the Out-of-Network benefit actually pay off in the long run—provided you use it. You will have to crunch those numbers for your situation.
If you DO have EyeMed Vision Care coverage, don’t walk into a regular optical shop assuming you can use your Eyemed insurance and get an incredible deal. That is amplified tenfold if you walk into a Luxottica owned or operated retailer, as they are out to get your money from you at every step of the transaction, all the while NOT disclosing to you that you are just dealing with another corporate division of Luxottica.
At best, these are questionable business practices designed to obscure the relationships between the Luxottica divisions from consumers. Since EyeMed regularly pushes its customers towards the Luxottica retailers, one would think they should be required to disclose the relationships they have as a corporate stepchild of Luxottica. It is mind boggling to me that we have divisions within a company that purposely do not tell their customers of their relationship to each other. That is unethical. Luxottica as an insurance provider through EyeMed should be compelled to disclose this fact. When consumers are lead to believe that EyeMed is representing their best interests in obtaining Vision Care, and then pursue corporate practices that cast a pall of doubt over that relationship, then I think it is safe to say we have a corporation that engages in practices that are simply unethical with an extreme conflict of interest that the majority of their customers simply do not know exists.
Personally, I am going to milk every last drop out of my Eyemed Vision Care benefits--and i can guarantee you my money won't be spent at any Luxottica affiliated store.