Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for finding affordable prescription eyeglasses? I used to have vision insurance through my work, but lost it when I turned 65, retired and signed up for Medicare.
--Looking For Eyeglasses
Prescription eyeglasses today aren't cheap. You can easily spend $200 for a basic pair, but if you want designer frames or need bifocal or progressive lenses the price can more than double. Here are a few different options that can help you save.
If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you already know that original Medicare (Part A and B) and Medigap supplemental policies do not cover routine eye exams or eyeglasses (unless you've just had cataract surgery), but there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that do.
Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover vision as well as dental, hearing and prescription drugs, in addition to all of your hospital and medical insurance. To locate Advantage plans in your area that provides vision coverage, visit Medicare.gov/find-a-plan or call 800-633-4227. But before enrolling in a plan, check the benefit details to ensure the plan's vision coverage includes routine eye exams, eyeglass frames and lenses.
You can switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan each year during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.
If, however, you don't want a Medicare Advantage plan, you can still get coverage by purchasing an inexpensive vision insurance policy - see eHealthInsurance.com. Policy costs vary depending on where you live, but they usually start at around $6 to $9 per month for an individual. Before signing up, make sure your savings potential is worth the cost of the premiums and copays.
Purchasing eyeglasses from discount retailers is another way to save. Costco is one of the best discount stores for good eyewear and low prices. Eyeglasses cost an average of around $150, but to shop there you have to pay a $55 annual membership fee. Some other good retail options for low prices include For Eyes Optical, BJ's Optical, Sam's Club and Walmart.
You also need to find out if you are eligible for any discounts. Many retailers provide discounts to membership groups like AARP and AAA. AARP members, for example, can get 30 percent off a pair of prescription eyeglasses as well as discounts on eye exams at any LensCrafters, most participating Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, JCPenney Optical and thousands of private optometrist offices.
Buying eyeglasses online can also offer huge savings. Some online stores like ZenniOptical.com, Goggles4u.com and EyeBuyDirect.com sell prescription eyeglasses for as little as $7 plus shipping. These sites let you upload a photo of your face, so you can see what you'd look like in different frames.
Or, for a fancier choice of frames see WarbyParker.com, which offers single-vision glasses for $95. They even offer a free program where you can request up to five pairs to try on at home for five days.
To purchase glasses online, you'll need your eyeglass prescription from a local eye doctor, plus your pupillary distance number, which is the distance, measured in millimeters, between the centers of your pupils in each eye.
If your income is low, depending on where you live, there may be some local clinics that provide free or discounted eye exams and eyeglasses. Put in a call to your local Lions Club to see what's available in your area.
You may also be able to get free eyeglasses through New Eyes, a nonprofit organization that provides free eyeglasses through a voucher program to people in financial need.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.