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Keep Up with Your Eye Health with Vision Insurance

Vision care provides coverage for an annual exam, eyeglasses, and contact lenses

Bob Baldwin shows off computer glasses at his home office in Durham. Photo by Jack Frederick.
Bob Baldwin shows off computer glasses at his home office in Durham. Photo by Jack Frederick.

After Bob Baldwin started working from home on a laptop computer, he experienced headaches and eye strain by the end of most days.

He had been wearing frames with progressive lenses, but after an annual eye exam in late 2020, an optometrist recommended Baldwin order computer eyeglasses with reflective coating to keep his eyes relaxed when using a computer. Baldwin, a clinical data specialist for the Duke Clinical Research Institute, used his vision care insurance to pay for the eyeglasses, which made an immediate difference in his workday.

“The big part of it is my eyes aren’t that tired at the end of the day,” said Baldwin, who has participated in the vision care plan since 2011.

While Duke’s medical insurance plans only cover an annual eye exam, the voluntary vision care plan extends protection by helping staff and faculty manage the cost of prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, as well as an eye examination. Staff and faculty can enroll in the vision care plan during annual Open Enrollment in October.  

Administered by UnitedHealthcare Vision, the plan allows for paying the monthly vision care premium on a pre-tax basis.

With in-network benefits, vision care participants can schedule an eye exam every 12 months for a $20 copay; order new frames every two years using an allowance; and get new lenses per pair with standard options covered in full once every 12 months.

“If you look at our lens options that are covered in full, we would consider it a Cadillac plan,” said Saundra Daniels, Duke Human Resources Plan Manager.

When Baldwin had his annual eye exam, he also ordered stronger progressive lenses for daily use when away from a computer.

“The eye exams cover checking up on any diseases that may have developed as well,” said Baldwin, who estimated that the plan has saved him at least $100 annually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vision and eye problems are increasing as the country ages; 90 million Americans over the age of 40 have vision
and eye problems.

Dr. Nicky Kim, an ophthalmologist at the Duke Eye Center, said that as people age, eyes undergo a process of presbyopia, or the gradual loss of the ability to focus on nearby objects. That means after age 40, prescription eyeglasses may be needed to better focus on reading or distance or both.

“To see their best, most people will need some sort of prescription,” Kim said.

Kim said early detection for macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma lowers treatment costs and improves prognosis for diagnoses that might not always have apparent symptoms until quite progressive.

“Diabetes is a big thing that’s important for regular eye exams, and glaucoma. That’s another silent disease,” Kim said. “The patient has no idea it’s happening until it’s quite progressed, and they become symptomatic.”

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