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A Guide to Vision Insurance for Kids

Nearly 1 in 3 kids have not had a vision screening in at least 2 years and companies with 50 or more employees aren’t required to provide vision coverage for kids. This leaves many kids without coverage for glasses, contacts or exams. Fortunately, there are some affordable vision insurance plans for kids and families that can help ensure eye health during growth years.

What Does Kids’ Vision Insurance Usually Cover?

Coverage can vary by plan or by provider but vision insurance can cover the basic services needed for vision care, such as:

  • Eye exams, vision exam or preventative care
  • Eyeglass lenses and frames
  • Contact lenses
  • Lens enhancements, like UV protection or scratch-resistant treatment

You may have full or partial coverage for these costs but it’s likely that you’ll still have some out-of-pocket expenses, like copayments that may be required for certain services. Also, it’s common for frame and lens coverage to have an allowance that limits the amount a vision insurance provider will pay for these items.

You can also buy more basic plans, which may be limited to eyewear only and which do not cover exams, or plans that cover the exam only but do not provide coverage for frames, lenses or contacts.

Vision insurance is a fairly simple plan designed to cover the cost of exams, glasses or contacts but some eye conditions may not be covered by vision insurance plans and are instead covered by a health insurance policy. 

What’s the Average Cost?

Expect to pay about $15 to $20 per month for vision insurance, depending on the plan you choose, but prices can also range to over $40 per month or more if you choose a plan with larger allowances for eyewear, a larger network of doctors or a plan that provides coverage for the whole family.

You may even see advertisements for vision insurance for less than $10 per month. However, chances are good that these are individual plans. If you have kids that need coverage, you’ll need a family plan. 

The monthly premium for vision insurance is usually based on a 12-month commitment, so you’ll either be billed for an annual amount all at once or you’ll have to agree to continue paying monthly for 12 months.

When is it Worth It?

You may have health insurance coverage through an Affordable Care Act plan, which is a metal-tier plan purchased through the health insurance marketplace. If you have an ACA plan, you already have vision care coverage for your children. Pediatric services, including vision and dental care, are required for ACA-compliant plans. Purchasing additional coverage isn’t needed. However, many other health insurance plans don’t include vision care, including many group health plans offered through larger employers.

According to VSP, a leading vision insurance provider with more than 88 million members worldwide, the national average cost for glasses and an exam is about $500. For many households, that’s a lot of money to pay out all at once. Vision insurance provides the opportunity to spread out vision care expenses while often saving money as well. 

Average basic vision care expenses:

Eye Exam$163
Frames$203
Lenses$130
Total$496

Thrifty shoppers may find a way to get the exam, frames and lenses for less than $500, but VSP provides averages for comparison, which means some families are paying more than $500 for glasses with an exam.

Most vision insurance plans also include coverage for lens options, like impact-resistant lenses, no-line bifocals and UV protection. Expect to pay a copayment for these or other options. However, the net effect is that you’ll save money on these options with many vision insurance plans compared to purchasing without coverage.

Your potential savings could be hundreds of dollars per year with vision insurance. An additional benefit is that your costs are predictable. Most of the cost for vision care with coverage is in the premium itself, which means that your out-of-pocket costs when your child needs an exam or glasses will be minimal. 

If your child doesn’t need glasses — and no one else in your family does, either, the cost of family coverage can compete with the cost of annual eye exams and you may not save much money by buying vision insurance.

Purchasing vision insurance for kids can be a wise choice. The CDC reports about a third of children between ages 6 to 17 wear glasses or contact lenses, and the percentage grows to over 50% for girls age 14 to 17 and 38% for boys of the same age. Eyesight continues to suffer in adulthood; over 60% of the population wears corrective lenses.

How to Get Your Child Covered

The steps required to get your kids covered with vision insurance can depend on which type of plan you choose. If you’re purchasing health insurance as well, a marketplace plan can provide vision coverage and dental insurance for your children.

However, dental and vision coverage are not always provided for adults with ACA-compliant plans. The process is usually much simpler if you purchase vision insurance as a standalone plan for the whole family.

Step 1: Compare Providers

Try choosing one of the more popular vision insurance providers when starting to shop for vision insurance. VSP is well-respected in the industry and provides fast and free quotes without needing to provide personal information — except your zip code and an email address.

Humana is another good choice because its network is large but pricing can be higher. EyeMed is another rapidly-growing vision insurance provider, but getting a quote requires a bit more information. You’ll be able to start your quote on each website and see which doctors or retailers you can use.

Step 2: Consider Where You’ll Get Your Eye Care

Not all retailers or eye doctors are covered by all plans. For example, EyeMed is partnered with many of the big box retailers, like Target and Sears, as well as national eyewear retailers, like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. In many areas, VSP has more coverage for independent eye doctors, which can provide a more personalized experience for kids in many cases. 

Step 3: Consider Your Budget and Savings

The cheapest plan isn’t always the best value. Plans priced under $10 per month are better described as discount plans than as full-coverage plans. In some cases, the least expensive plans limit coverage to the cost of an exam while only providing discounts on frames, lenses or contacts.

Even with discounts, you could be taking on a large expense when you need to buy glasses or contacts for the kids. In other cases, you might get an allowance toward glasses but have to pay for the exam yourself. Limitations like this can make a plan less valuable and perhaps not worth purchasing. 

While it isn’t always wise to buy the most expensive plan, higher-tier plans usually reduce your out-of-pocket costs when it’s time to buy glasses or to upgrade to a new prescription.

For example, VSP’s most affordable plan offers a $120 allowance toward certain frames and then a discount on amounts over your allowance. Lenses have a simple copay of $25 with no options. VSP estimates typical savings for this plan at $180 per year. 

Source: vsp.com

By comparison, VSP’s EasyOptions plan offers more generous allowances and the option of no copayment for some lens treatments and the company estimates total savings of $330 per year. The monthly premium is higher for the EasyOptions plan but the potential annual savings for your family can be nearly double.

Step 4: Consider Your Children’s Ages

Many vision insurance plans provide coverage for dependents up to age 26 but as with health insurance coverage, their location can become a consideration. If any of your kids are going away to college, you’ll want to find a vision insurance provider that has in-network locations both at home and at school. 

Depending on the vision insurance company or the plan you choose, there may not be any coverage for out-of-network services. This is also a common consideration for standard health insurance plans, where often only emergency services are covered while traveling or away from home.

Step 5: Consider Copayments

Most vision insurance plans do not use a deductible like other types of health insurance. Instead, expect to make copayments for many services. Some providers or plans may include a free exam and others may require a small copayment, which is a fixed amount you pay at the time service is provided.

Copayments tend to be highest for lens options, which can cost nearly $200 for a single option at the time you purchase glasses. Copayments tend to be more affordable for options you’re more likely to choose with kid’s lenses, like scratch-resistant coating or impact-resistant lenses. You’ll still save money on these options with a vision insurance plan, but plan ahead so you can cover your out-of-pocket costs.

Step 6: Purchase Online

Unlike some other types of insurance, vision insurance can be easily purchased online using your debit or credit card. In some cases, you can also arrange for automatic monthly bank account debits to be sure you never miss a payment and your coverage doesn’t lapse.

Review your options carefully before purchasing because the plan you choose probably requires a 12-month commitment. Vision insurers make this requirement to prevent losses due to members who cancel coverage immediately after buying glasses and this requirement helps keep prices more affordable for everyone.

Choose a Vision Insurance Plan for Your Kids

Buying vision insurance won’t save you thousands of dollars per year, but choosing the best vision insurance plan can easily save you hundreds on eye care for your family. The benefits of vision insurance are twofold: In many cases, you’ll save money compared to buying eye care services on your own. You’ll also benefit from splitting the annual cost of eye care into manageable monthly payments if you choose a monthly plan.

Cost is a consideration for many households, but do consider the provider network. Plans with a limited network can be less convenient — and may be less kid-friendly. Choose a plan that covers the eye doctor your kids want to see.

Want to learn more about finding affordable insurance? Check out Benzinga’s guides to the best affordable health insurance, the best self-employed health insurance and the best cheap car insurance.