7 reasons why seniors need vision insurance

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Vision loss among the elderly is a major health problem but vision insurance can help you maintain your vision.

Key highlights

  • Approximately one in three people have some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65
  • Traditional Medicare does not cover vision, dental, or hearing benefits
  • Vision insurance can help make taking care of your eyes more affordable and help your detect vision problems earlier

Many older Americans receive their health insurance coverage via Medicare. Medicare offers many benefits for recipients and the majority of Medicare recipients report being happy with their health insurance. But, Medicare does not cover everything. Traditional Medicare insurance does not cover vision, dental, or hearing benefits. As a result, this means that many older Americans need additional coverage. 

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Vision insurance for seniors

As we age, our eyes change, and most often for the worse. Beginning in your early to mid-40s, you may start to have problems seeing clearly at close distances, especially when reading and working on the computer. This change in the eye's focusing ability will continue to progress over time. As you reach your 60s and beyond, you need to be aware of the warning signs of age-related eye health problems that could cause vision loss. Many eye diseases have no early symptoms. They may develop painlessly, and you may not notice the changes to your vision until the condition is quite advanced. 

Vision loss among the elderly is a major health care problem. Approximately one in three people have some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65¹. Vision insurance can help make taking care of your eyes more affordable and help your detect vision problems earlier with coverage for eye exams, as well as products to correct vision, such as prescription glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. 

1. Glasses can be costly 

Glasses, particularly bifocals and trifocals, can be costly for many people if they have to pay out-of-pocket. If you need bifocals, trifocals, or progressive lenses, the price goes up significantly. Someone on a tight budget may not be able to afford the cost of prescription glasses without vision insurance. Without insurance, many settle for cheaper prescription glasses, which can result in poor quality. Inexpensive glasses often have plastic lenses that are thinner, more likely to lose their structural integrity, and scratch more easily. Vision insurance for seniors can help you purchase prescription glasses with glass lenses that are more resistant to scratching and less prone to fingerprints and dust. 

Special features increase the cost of glasses

Without insurance, glasses with special features can cost $1,000 or more. You may need glasses with features that make managing your day-to-day activities more comfortable, including:

  • Anti-reflective coating, which reduces lens glare and distracting reflections.

  • Transition lenses that darken when you are out in the sunlight. This allows your prescription glasses to double as sunglasses.

  • A hydrophobic coating helps glasses remain clear when you're in a wet or humid environment.

  • Polarized lenses are great for outdoor activities, especially daytime driving. Not only do they reduce glare, but they also provide high-contrast vision with 100% UV protection. 

2. Annual eye exam coverage 

Eye insurance plans also generally cover the cost of yearly eye exams. Annual eye exams assess if you need glasses and if your prescription has changed. Eye exams also assess your overall eye health. During an eye exam, your ophthalmologist will be able to identify eye diseases and issues, such as:

  • Cataracts

  • Glaucoma

  • Macular degeneration

An eye exam can also help detect other health problems, such as high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. If caught early enough, you could get the treatment you need to slow the disease's progression. 

3. Cataracts are more common as we age

Cataracts happen with age as the lens in your eye becomes cloudy. The clouding of your lens may make it difficult for you to focus on the world around you. In short, it significantly disrupts your vision and can impact your overall quality of life. In addition to generally blurry vision, cataracts can cause double vision or severe light sensitivity. 

Ultimately, cataracts need to be treated surgically. In cataract surgery, the lens is removed from the eye, and an artificial lens is inserted. This process usually restores your vision to your pre-cataract state. 

Traditional Medicare may cover cataract surgery. If you don't have insurance, it could cost you $4,704 to $6,898 per eye.²

4. Glaucoma: the cause of 10% of total blindness 

Another common eye problem that is often associated with aging is glaucoma. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about 75% of those who are legally blind because of glaucoma are seniors.³ Glaucoma is a disease that impacts your optic nerve and it often happens when pressure builds up in the eye. There are multiple underlying reasons or conditions that can increase your risk of developing glaucoma. 

Fortunately, there are numerous ways that glaucoma can be treated. Treatment options often hinge on your age, how early the eye doctor detects glaucoma, and any other health conditions that you may or may not have. If one identifies the problem at an early stage, it may be enough to give prescription eye drops, primarily prostaglandins. However, other patients may require more intensive treatment, such as laser therapy or surgery. 

As with cataracts, most health insurance programs, including Medicare, will cover approved glaucoma therapies. However, specific eye insurance policies can also provide additional peace of mind. 

5. Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is a disease of the retina that is strongly associated with the aging process. Macular degeneration leads to the progressive loss of your vision, slowly working from the center of the eye outwards. There is no known treatment for macular degeneration. However, there are different recommendations that doctors may make to slow down the progression of the disease, and research continues into potential cures for macular degeneration. Again, as an eye disease, macular degeneration treatment may be covered by health insurance plans, such as Medicare.

6. Early diagnosis makes a big difference

Even though cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration may be covered by major health insurance policies, these conditions may be diagnosed at an earlier stage with yearly eye exams. Early diagnosis can also improve your changes of successful treatment and your quality of life. Annual eye exams are generally not covered by health insurance but they are covered by vision insurance. 

7. Vision insurance can offer discounts and savings

Seniors without vision insurance can expect to pay up to $200 for an eye exam. If you're at risk for diabetes or have diabetes, it's crucial to get routine retinal screenings, as diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. The cost of retinal screening is approximately $478⁴, but with insurance, you might pay much less. The savings you get from annual exams and screenings are significant, but the real savings can come from glasses. In addition to saving on frames, you can reduce your costs on lenses and coatings like anti-reflective coating, light-to-dark tinting, and more. 

Deciding on the best vision insurance for seniors

Once you decide to enroll in vision insurance to meet your vision needs, the next step is to determine the best vision insurance for seniors is. It is important to remember that most vision care (except for eye diseases) is not covered by traditional Medicare. Therefore, you may need to purchase a supplementary vision insurance program to address these needs. 

Understand your benefits

Even though most insurance programs' price is relatively similar, this does not mean the benefits are. Most plans will cover annual eye exams. But, your contact lens, frame allowance and lens coverage can vary from plan to plan. 

Vision insurance programs usually offer an allowance of a certain amount for frames. Additional allowances may be provided for a particular designer or brand name frames. Often vision insurance will cover the full cost of standard lenses or even bifocals or trifocals. However, even with insurance, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for add-ons, such as progressive lenses, anti-reflective coating, or scratch resistance. 

Coverage may also differ for contact lenses. Vision insurance may provide a standard allowance, for contact lenses. Another difference may be if the program covers elective surgery, such as LASIK. Think about what you want in your vision insurance and choose the policy that best fits your wish list.

As we age, our health needs change and may increase, often dramatically. This is especially true for our eyes. There are a number of eye conditions related to aging that can be costly to correct without vision insurance. 

Before selecting the perfect plan for you, it is important to assess your budget carefully and what benefits are an important part of the insurance. Equipped with this information, you will be able to choose the vision insurance that’s best for you and your family. 

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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  1. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0701/p99.html, 1999

  2. https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/cataract-surgery-cost.htm, 2019 

  3. https://www.aging.com/glaucoma-a-guide-for-seniors, accessed June 2020 

  4. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/37/11/e236, 2014