By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
I will be enrolling in Medicare in a few months, and would like to know how Medicare covers vision services? I currently have vision insurance through my employer but will lose it when I retire.
Many people approaching 65 are unclear on what Medicare does and doesn’t cover when it comes to vision services. The good news is that original Medicare covers most medical issues like cataract surgery, treatment of eye diseases and medical emergencies. But unfortunately, routine care like eye exams and eyeglasses are the beneficiary’s responsibility.
However, there is dry eye syndrome or sindrome del ojo seco which characterized by a tear deficit, which causes discomfort when blinking and a gritty sensation in the eyes, since the eye requires a constant flow of tears to maintain its comfort. This is an ongoing condition that treatments may be unable to cure but can often be successfully managed with the help of some specialists.
Here’s a breakdown of what is and isn’t covered.
• Eye exams and treatments: Medicare does not cover routine eye exams that test for eyeglasses or contact lenses. But they do cover yearly medical eye exams if you have diabetes or are at high risk for glaucoma. They will also pay for exams to test and treat medical eye diseases if you’re having vision problems that indicate a serious eye problem like macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome, glaucoma, eye infections or if you get something in your eye.
• Eye surgeries: Medicare will cover most eye surgeries that help repair the eye function, including cataract surgery to remove cataracts and insert standard intraocular lenses to replace your own. Medicare will not, however, pick up the extra cost if you choose a specialized lens that restores full range of vision, thereby reducing your need for glasses after cataract surgery. The extra cost for a specialized lens can run up to $2,500 per eye.
Eye surgeries that are usually not covered by Medicare include refractive (LASIK) surgery and cosmetic eye surgery that are not considered medically necessary. If your eye doctor recommended an Intra Lasik surgery, you may consult with Medicare if they will cover the costs.
• Eyeglasses and contact lenses: Medicare does not pay for eyeglasses or contact lenses, with one exception: If you have had a conventional intraocular lens inserted during cataract surgery, Medicare will pay for eyeglasses or contact lenses following the operation.
Ways to Save
Although original Medicare’s vision coverage is limited to medical issues, there are ways you can save on routine care. Here are several to check into.
• Consider a Medicare Advantage plan: One way you can get extra vision coverage when you join Medicare is to choose a Medicare Advantage plan instead of original Medicare. Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, will cover routine eye care and eyeglasses along with all of your hospital and medical insurance, and prescription drugs. See Medicare.gov/find-a-plan to shop for plans.
• Purchase vision insurance: If you get routine eye exams and purchase new eyeglasses annually, a vision insurance plan may be worth the costs. These policies typically run between $12 and $20 per month. See Ehealthinsurance.com to look for plans.
• Check veterans benefits: If you’re a veteran and qualify for VA health care benefits, you may be able to get some or all of your routine vision care through VA. Go to Vets.gov, and search for “vision care” to learn more.
• Shop around: Many retailers provide discounts — between 10 and 30 percent — on eye exams and eyeglasses if you belong to a membership group like AARP or AAA.
You can also save by shopping at discount retailers like Costco Optical, which is recommended by Consumer Reports as the best discount store for good eyewear and low prices — it requires a $60 membership fee. Walmart Vision Centers also offer low prices with no membership.
Or consider buying cheap glasses online. Online retailers like WarbyParker.com, ZenniOptical.com, and EyeBuyDirect.com all get top marks from the Better Business Bureau and offer huge savings. To purchase glasses online you’ll need a prescription.
• Look for assistance: There are also health centers and local clinics that provide free or discounted vision exams and eyeglasses to those in need. To find them put a call into your local Lions Club (see Directory.LionsClubs.org) for referrals.
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.