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Robert Bell

Robert Bell: You’ve Been Brainwashed

When did optometric practices decide to go into the insurance business?




Robert Bell: You’ve Been Brainwashed

WHEN WE WORK with a client, one of the first things we do is to scope out the local competition with a “blind shop.” We gauge a variety of things: Is the place well lit? Is it clean? What’s on the frame boards — and is it organized? But the most important objective is to assess how the staff interacts with a complete stranger who walks in off the street.

Recently, I walked into 11 separate private practices in an economically booming Northern California town. At each one, I said, “Hi, my wife and I are moving out to this area from New York. I’m just doing a little house hunting and I was driving by and saw your place. My wife and I are complete eyeglass junkies. Would it be OK if I just look around?”

Of the 11 practices, staff at each replied in a very similar way: “Sure, what kind of vision insurance do you have?”

Are you kidding me? That’s the very first thing you ask a potential patient? A potential customer who is a self-professed eyewear junkie, no less? Was I in an insurance agency or an optometric practice?

When I explained that I’ve never had vision insurance, do you know what happened? Nothing. With the exception of the very last office I visited that day, nothing happened! And when I say nothing, I mean I was left to my own devices at the frame boards for 20 to 30 minutes until I walked out the door. In the last office, the optician/frame buyer went on to explain to me the features and benefits of a vision care plan even after I told her that I don’t have that coverage. At least she made an effort to engage me on some level.

But why? How did she become so conditioned to immediately play the insurance card with me? Why is it the first thing most ECPs talk about?


What’s that? It’s because a lot of your patients have a vision care plan, you say? Not to be rude, but so what? Initiating the insurance conversation is the path of least resistance. It’s a white flag of surrender. What are you truly afraid of? (Tell me via email, if you’d like. My contact info accompanies this column.)

Let’s look at this another way. Did you go to Insurance School or Optometry School? Are you an insurance agent or an optician? It doesn’t read ABC Optometry & Insurance on your sign, does it? Does it read XYZ Optometry & Financial Planning? Yeah, didn’t think so. I can assure you that insurance agents or financial planners are not asking their clients about eyewear. Ever!

Look folks, I know you don’t want the insurance companies to dictate to you what services and products you should provide patients. I know that you don’t want these companies limiting your ability to do your job, professionally or financially. And yet, you allow it. In fact, you invite it! How? By initiating the insurance conversation with the patient.

So, what to do?

Change the conversation!

Take control and turn it around.


If a patient doesn’t mention insurance, why bring it up? And if it does come up, ask the patient whether they’re more comfortable with an insurance company dictating what services and products they should have — or would they prefer to follow the advice, counsel and guidance of their eye doctor? Seriously. Ask it, then don’t say another word until they answer you.

Here are a few EyeCoach “commandments” that may help you look at this in another way:

  • Thou shall never initiate a discussion about vision care plans with the patient.
  • Thou shall not tell a patient your plan “covers” this amount or your plan “pays” for that amount.
  • Thou shall never say “your plan is like a discount.”
  • Thou shall substitute the word “contributes” as in “Your plan contributes to the retail price of…” Amen.



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