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Don't Call It Insurance

10 Practices Offering Patients an In-House Alternative to Managed Care Plans

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One of the trends that has defined the eyecare industry in recent years has been a shift in visioncare costs away from employer toward the individual, which certainly impacts ECPs. The idea of discounting products or services is anathema to many providers, but let’s face it — eyecare isn’t cheap. On the other hand, many bristle at the restrictions common with accepting vision insurance plans. Is there a way to rid yourself of insurance without ridding yourself of insured patients? Or at least, finding a way to cater to both? When we asked our readers whether they had their own loyalty programs or vision plans, one of the most common replies was, “No, but I’d love hear more from those who do.” So, here is what led 10 practices to create their own membership or loyalty programs, and how they went about it.

Lavenburg Medical Group

Elkton, MD, and Newark, DE

Several years ago, Lavenburg Medical Group decided it was time to discuss their low conversion rate from clinic to optical. “The problem was those without vision care plans are subjected to higher prices than we would charge if we weren’t accepting VCPs,” recalls Gwenn Lewis, optical manager. “It’s a two-fold problem; if we don’t take the VCPs, we will lose a substantial percent of our patients to practices close by that do.” They brainstormed and came up with a plan they dubbed Healthier Vision for Life.

Members qualify for 30 percent off a complete pair of Rx glasses; 50 percent off non-Rx sunglasses (except Maui and Costa); 10 percent off contact lenses, LASIK or refractive surgery; and 10 percent off cosmetic and skin products and services. None of the discounts can be combined with any insurance, discounts or promotions. Lavenburg also offers Wells Fargo Credit with one-year interest free financing.

The practice administrator or one of the docs will call local businesses to offer the plan to employees free of charge. “We attend local health fairs and other events and offer the plan,” Lewis adds.

KEEP IN MIND: Lewis offers a time-honored tip: “We have brochures we hand out, and when the person signs up for the plan they receive a card they can carry in their wallet. The goal here is every time they look in their wallet they see our name and the discount card.”

Uber Optics

Petaluma, CA

Uber Optics implemented its loyalty plan to “preach the gospel” of great eyewear, says owner Nancy Revis. She noticed her business was developing a following of “super like-minded people” at locally based Lagunitas Brewing Co., which has over 250 employees. Staff there have VSP, but they also have health savings accounts. “We thought if we [targeted] a cool ad and idea to these companies we could get them to get their glasses with us regardless of their vision insurance plan restrictions.” One of the main benefits has been that the Lagunitas employees in turn “tell their cool friends we have great product and great service.”

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Uber’s experience is a valuable lesson in the art of networking: Her main Lagunitas connection was the night-time bottler, a fellow with “an eyewear addiction and excellent taste.” Revis made postcards and walked around handing them out to employees and workers. “I like to get my (and our) faces in our ads, and not use stock photos,” she says. (Uber Optics’ home-grown marketing campaign, created by Revis and her sister Amy Koenig, is already well-known to Petaluma residents.)

Being a boutique, Uber’s plan covers frames and lenses only. People with VSP are offered a 10 percent discount on the bottom line, and Uber submits all the paperwork to VSP for the customer. “In the end,” says Revis, “it’s like a 30 percent discount being out-of-network, where in-network it ends up being about a 40-45 percent savings — but then they are limited in terms of frame selection, lens/lab selection and service.” For bigger companies with many employees, including Lagunitas, Uber came up with an offer of 20 percent off the frame and lens. Revis explains all of this fully so they understand that this is an out-of-network deal. Taking care of the paperwork makes it easy for them to purchase from Uber, she says.

Revis has her own, typically idiosyncratic take on the benefits of her plan to boosting preventive eyecare: “I guess the preventive care would be protecting them from buying ugly, cheap eyewear.”

KEEP IN MIND: Revis reminds ECPs to ensure all information exchanges made while offering such plans are HIPAA compliant.

New England Eyeworks

Keene, NH

Having decided not to accept vision insurance plans, New England Eyewear created one of its own — Tristate Vision Plan (TVSP) — so that “patients without vision insurance feel they can still come see us for their eyecare,” says owner Barton Higley, OD. The “optically weighted” plan does not cover exams, (though if a patient’s medical insurance has routine coverage the practice will bill the routine exam). Premiums cost $25 per family. Members receive a 20 percent discount on glasses, 15 percent on contact lenses, and 15 percent on the CL service fee. The discount covers everything from standard to premium lenses.

“Our online retail friends have proven the concept of patients choosing to purchase eyewear based on brand positioning … and a lot of them don’t bill vision insurances. On the patients’ side, we are saying we understand that eyecare can be expensive, so let’s extend some help. So we meet in the middle.”

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KEEP IN MIND: Higley believes there is a misconception in the profession that patients choose eyecare providers based on coverage or cost. This is “absolutely not the case,” he says. “Patients seek care from you based on … perceived value.” When developing a plan, “Never stint on quality of care to be able to offer a cheaper service or product,” he says.

Metro Optics Eyewear

Bronx, NY

Metro Optics knew what they wanted out of offering their own vision plan, the “Metro Optics Vision Club” — trackable new patient acquisition via an affordable, comprehensive package. In their case, that meant an eyecare-plus-eyewear package with second-pair discounts and upgrade credits for both frames and lenses.

To promote the plan, Metro relies on online outreach (Web and social), bus shelter advertising, print advertising in local publications, health fairs, and partnering with local companies and organizations by cross-promoting on their websites, emails and social accounts and at their events.

The Vision Club is offered to local businesses and nonprofits as an alternative to an eyecare insurance plan they can include among their employee benefit offerings. Groups of 15-plus receive a slight discount on the membership rate, Bonizio says.

KEEP IN MIND: Consider allowing patients to sign up online. Metro Optics requires it. This entailed working with a developer to build a custom e-commerce website to process online membership purchases, and also a back-end database that practice personnel in the business’s multiple locations can all access, according to marketing and community relations manager Sara Bonizio.

Eye Columbus

Gahanna, OH

Eye Columbus launched its “Eye Columbus Visionary Program” to reward patients. Members gain access to exclusive promotions and events as well as discounts on glasses, sunglasses and accessories. According to owner Craig Miller, OD, the program is not intended to replace a patient’s vision care plan, but has served its purpose of allowing patients who choose not to carry vision insurance to reduce costs. Patients are introduced to the plan by an optician “if it makes sense for them to become a member,” says Miller. It offers them various ways to save money, and patients seem to appreciate it,” he adds.

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KEEP IN MIND: If you’re going to start a program of your own, Miller urges you to keep your end goal in view. “I always caution ECPs about just giving discounts for discounts’ sake. Discounting can build a culture of patients expecting a handout. Try to build a program that builds patient loyalty to your business. Then find a creative way to reward that loyalty.”

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