We all heard the news, Vision Service Plan (VSP) is making yet another change to screw eyecare professionals. Most providers have not received a reimbursement increase in years…or ever. The news really is a blow. They continue to force doctors to choose lenses on their lens formulary rather than recognizing that doctors and opticians should have free will to fit any lens they think is most beneficial for a patient. It’s all just a money grab for VSP.
However, VSP is not the only one that constantly changes their business practices to only benefit their employees, executives and bank account. Eyemed, Versant (Davis and Superior) and Spectera have all been the bad guys/gals. All of these players also have some type of lab relationship and force us to use their crappy slow labs with poor finishing quality and customer service.
I’m done talking about the bad things vision plans do for the industry and patients. It’s pretty obvious everyone in the eyecare industry just wishes vision plans would disappear so we could get back to the craft of eyecare and opticianry.
Time to focus on how to make money using vision plans. Yes, you can work within the framework of vision plans and make a healthy profit on them.
Sell above the patient frame allowance
It’s not rocket science to make money selling glasses on vision plans. The only rule you need to follow is sell a frame that’s more than the patient’s frame allowance. The standard vision plan offers a frame allowance usually around $130. In this scenario, you need to sell a frame for more than $130 if you plan to make a profit. No matter how expensive the frame you sell is, vision plans will pay you the same amount.
This is called the Wholesale Frame Allowance (WFA). The plans pay the provider a fixed amount. The higher the allowance, the higher the WFA you receive. The WFA is usually 40% of the patient’s allowance. This reimbursement is not going to make you rich! This is why you absolutely have to sell frames that cost more than the patient allowance.
Example of making tiny margins on frames selling right at the frame allowance price point:
|Patient Frame Allowance: $130||Frame Retail Cost: $130||Patient out-of-pocket: $0||Provider WFA Reimbursement: $50||Wholesale Cost You Bought Frame: $43.00||Your Frame Profit: $7|
Example of making medium margins on frames selling product $100 over frame allowance price point:
|Patient Frame Allowance: $130||Frame Retail Cost: $230||20% off frame overage: $20||Patient out-of-pocket: $80||Provider WFA Reimbursement: $50||Wholesale Cost You Bought Frame: $76.00||Your Frame Profit: $54|
Example of making high margins on frames selling products $300 over frame allowance price point:
|Patient Frame Allowance: $130||Frame Retail Cost: $430||20% off frame overage: $60||Patient out-of-pocket: $240||Provider WFA Reimbursement: $50||Wholesale Cost You Bought Frame: $143.00||Your Frame Profit: $147|
The trend is very clear here. Sell more expensive frames, make more money. If you only sell frames that are fully covered by the vision plans you are working for nothing.
What if all my patients are frugal? How can I still make money?
In this scenario when a frugal patient population exists, you will need to lower your costs of goods when buying “insurance frames.” These are the frames that patients pay $0 for and have fully covered. To make money, you will need to buy low and proceed with a heavier frame multiplier markup. You will start to profit when you hit the 4x markup, but aim for 6x to really juice your profit numbers.
You may be wondering how to find frames that will allow you to have beyond the 3x markup. The two buying methods are:
- Buy discontinued frames from your reps (ask them, they won’t tell you they have them).
- ODs United is a great source. They send weekly emails with new updated collections.
- Contact us, we’ll make specific brand recommendations.
- Buy private label frames at 70% discount off normal frames. You build your own.
Don’t compete on frame price
We all have frugal Franks and Fantasias coming through our practices. Some people are low-income while others just love saving money. Good for them for being smart and saving money for more important things like food, mortgage, or education.
However, others just don’t value eyewear. They only want cheap and good-enough eyewear so they can see. It’s not a big part of their life having snazzy spectacles.
If 1/3 of your frame inventory is insurance-priced frames around $130-$150, that’s exactly the type of patient-base you will attract. People will drive across town to buy expensive glasses, but are you selling them? Your low-price inventory should not be displayed front-and-center in your practice. Hide it on a less attractive display or corner. Put it in a nice rolling box if you don’t have room.
If I were to ask you the question “Why should I buy glasses from you?”, please do not tell me you sell cheap frames. I want you to tell me you sell unique eyewear not found anywhere else in your metropolitan area.
When the cheap person comes in asking for insurance frames with $0 out of pocket costs, don’t give in to their demand! Instead, use this as an opportunity to sit the patient down and go select 5 pairs of glasses.
- 1st pair: Most expensive frame you sell ($600)
- 2nd pair: Ultra colorful lightweight Japanese titanium ($450)
- 3rd pair: Glossy buttery feeling acetate from China ($325)
- 4th pair: Frame just above insurance ($175)
- 5th pair: Insurance price ($150)
Show quality first, talk about price last. Start by letting the patient try on the first 3 frames first. They will be blown away how great your frame selection is! By the time you get to the lower-priced frames, they will start to feel FOMO (fear of missing out).
They will want more expensive frames because they are obviously more stylish and more comfortable. Use sales verbiage like “this frame will last you many, many years. You will get sick of wearing it before it’s ready to retire.” Start to build value beyond the price. “OMG, you look like a celebrity in these.” People want to be flattered. Laugh and have fun during the sales process. Optician work is not meant to be all numbers and data. Patients will naturally tend to open their budget a little. They may not go for the $600 frame, but your odds of selling the $325 will increase majorly since you took the time to show the patient the quality difference.
If the price is still an objection, consider offering the patient a payment plan where they can pay for the product over 90 days with 0% interest. People love payment flexibility. Get what you want now and pay later. Sunbit has the best payment plans for optical patients!
Don’t match contact lens prices
I know everybody wants to be the patient’s friend and give them the best price match from 1-800 Contacts. That’s one strategy to maintain healthy patient relationships, but your bank account will suffer.
If optometry patients want cheap contacts, they usually have made up their mind before even visiting for the eye exam. They will take their contact lens prescription to-go and buy online. Cater towards the patients that like the way you do things and value your services. There is a huge convenience to having the practice process an order, ship directly to the patient’s house, and be friendly with the patient when they are in need of trials.
Matching pricing comparison:
|BioTrue 1-day Year Supply: $640||Matched Price:|
|Your wholesale costs: $280||Manufacturer patient |
|Your profit: |
|BioTrue 1-day Year |
|Unmatched Price: $640||Your wholesale costs: $280||Manufacturer patient rebate: $200||Your profit: |
In this example, you could’ve earned $80 more by not matching prices. Multiply this $80 by 100-year supplies in a year and this amounts to $8000 in extra profit!
The 2 main reasons patients don’t buy contact lenses from you:
1. Your sales presentation is poorly done or pricing is confusing to understand. Every eye exam eventually ends up in a sales pitch for a patient to buy something to correct their refractive error. I think selling contact lenses in the exam room is the best place to make the sale. It’s quiet and your patient can pay attention. It doesn’t matter if the doctor does the selling or the tech in the exam room, but make sure the sales pitch is more than just someone verbally telling the patient it’s XYZ price. Also, I’ve seen it too many times where you scramble to calculate the price because there are a zillion lenses you have to remember. Use technology to help you! Patients need a visual sales presentation if you plan to successfully sell year supplies. They want to see the savings they are receiving with their vision plan, and also the savings bonus they get by using the yearly rebate. The best sales tool available for this is LensQuote. In just a few clicks of this desktop, mobile, and tablet-friendly-tool, you can price contacts and never make a pricing mistake. The price of the lenses is displayed beautifully in a way patients can read and understand. Take the sales pitch method away, and just start presenting facts.
Let the tablet do the selling!
2. Your patients want to buy contact lenses online, but you don’t make it easy
Realize that selling a year’s supply of contacts is not always possible. Expand your contact lens business beyond the 4 walls of your practice. Setting up an online store could not be easier.
Let me paint the picture of what happens when a patient is running out of their 6-month supply of lenses. The patient has a few options: they can call, they can drop by the office, or they can buy from your e-commerce store. It’s not very likely the patient will do any of those though. They are more likely just to Google “cheap contacts” and they’ll be overloaded with tons of purchasing options. The patient will just search for their brand and powers and be a happy customer of someone else now. The online store is not necessarily cheaper, it’s just more convenient because the patient can order online at 11:00 PM in their polka dot pajama pants sipping decaf coffee with Baileys Irish crème.
But you should have been the one making the sale! How though? The patient should’ve received a text message from your office automatically during month 5 of the patient’s supply. It would read something like, “Hi Karen, you’re almost out of contacts, re-order more here: contacts.smitheyecenter.com.”
See how easy that was? All it takes is a quick reminder and the patient is on your HIPAA-secure site reordering lenses because you beat the other online vendors to the race. The patient would also get an email too.
The best part about online orders is you don’t have to do any work! You get notified of the sale via email and your distributor ships them. The money collected arrives in your bank account weekly.
Charge appropriately and yearly for soft contact lens fitting fees
I can’t urge you enough – charge for your professional labor. This is one of the fees you can control. Of course, many vision plans dictate what we charge for standard spherical contact lens fits, but premium fits like multifocals and torics, you get some free reign. Don’t underprice just because you want to be nice to your patients and you feel bad it’s so expensive. What’s really expensive is your rent! The only way to grow your business is by charging what you are worth. When you nail the contact lens fit within minutes and make it look super easy, your patients may think the fee is a ripoff or you are an expert and efficient!
Even Walmart and Costco charge extra for contact lens fits.
Your initial fit should always be a higher price than your refits. When the patient comes back in year after year for an eye exam, set the precedence you always charge for fits. They will get used to it and not feel like you are pulling one over them.
Remember, as time progresses so should your prices. If you haven’t raised your fitting fees in awhile, bump them up $5-$10 to adjust for inflation. Your patients won’t recognize the minor cost increase and you’ll see an easy boost in profits.
Sell at least 1 cash service to avoid vision plans!
Complaining about crappy vision plan reimbursements is for whiners. Instead, focus on what you can control. Vision plan patients always have needs beyond normal contacts and glasses. Here’s a short list of things to increase your revenue per patient each year:
- Thermal One-Touch
- Maskin Probing
- Manual expression
- Rigid Gas Permeable
- Custom soft
- Shaw Lenses (lookup reasons for shaw)
- Neurolenses (lookup reasons)
- Rx sunwear
- Costa Del Mar
- The American brand (can’t remember)
- Frosted mirrors
- Dillon Optics
- Color Blindness
- Color Blindness
- Dyslexia in children
- Dry eye
- Macular Degeneration
(Northwest Frame repair, SB Specs, and the place I use I forget)
- Nosepad additions to acetate frames
- Matte finishing
- Hinge repair
- Polishing old glasses to like-new condition
- Broken frames
- Asian-fit pad modification on acetate frames
- Chemistrie clips
- Cleaning cloths
- CMA Global
- Eyeglasses spray
- Makeup glasses
- Fancy eyeglasses leather cases
- OTC Reading glasses
I know I just dumped a lot of cash services and products on you that you can offer. You probably already offer many of these items. When you decide to sell cash products and services, they won’t sell themselves. You are going to have to prompt patients to buy them. For example, just telling somebody they have a dry eye and they should purchase a fancy dry eye treatment for $800 is not going to convince them. You have to educate the patient and take your time.
You may think your patients will never buy XYZ product, so why bother making the investment to sell it. Well, you don’t know what sells until you try something new. Always be bringing in new products to the office until you find the right mix. Keep adding to your cash services menu each year and you will eventually see a heavy income stream of profitable things ONLY your office sells in your area. Don’t underestimate selling a silly accessory or doing something above and beyond like adding nose pads to an acetate frame. This is what creates loyalty. Everybody does eye exams, but not everybody offers the services and products mentioned here.
We all know vision plans are the biggest scam in the world and they should not exist
VSP, EyeMed, Versant, and Spectera all have too much power over the profession. However, we must do our best to make profits within the framework of our profession. The easiest thing you can do is constantly be experimenting with new products and new pricing. It’s COVID-19 right now, but this doesn’t mean you have to go to a tradeshow to re-energize yourself about the profession. If you are lost and need some inspiration, check out our podcasts for some wicked new ideas. Vision plans aren’t the end-all, but not trying hard enough to make your business great is.