Why Visionworks doesn’t “get it.”

Being a both a consumer and a marketing professional for over 20 years, perhaps I’m not the typical “customer.” But like many of us, I have zero tolerance for businesses who take advantage of consumers by obfuscating the services they provide and how much they cost.

My teenage daughter lost her glasses, so I called Visionworks to get a quick replacement. She also needed more contact lenses.

“So you’re here for new glasses and to order your contacts, right? Because that will be two vision exams. Don’t worry, it’s all in the same appointment, but you will be charged for two separate exams, because that is our policy.”

Hmmm….this didn’t really make sense, but my insurance always covered my eye exams, glasses or contacts. I sat in on the eye exam to understand better what was happening. She read the small letters on the wall, doctor adjusted the lenses over each eye and established her prescription. He put drops in her eyes then brought in a box of contact lens samples. “Try these, see how they feel. There’s enough for 5 days in there.” She put them in, blinked, and said they felt great. And nothing more on contacts.

At the end of the visit, they ran my insurance card, and charged me a balance; the eye glass exam was covered but I owed them for a contact lens exam. I questioned it. We didn’t receive a contact lens exam per se. Oh, was that it? The part where the doctor gave us free samples?

I expressed my confusion. I never had to pay out of pocket for a routine eye exam before, neither for contacts nor glasses. Why are you charging me for a second exam? Here is the response.

If you want contacts, you have to have a contact lens exam.
If you want a contact lens exam, you first have to have an eye glass exam.
That’s our policy, you need two exams.
Your insurance company only pays for one exam.
They will discount the 2nd exam by 20%, so you only owe us $30.
I understand why you’re confused since you never had to pay that before, but I don’t know what SYSTEM your other doctor used.

So blame it on your system and your policy as you smile and take my $30! At this point, I started to come unglued, and pointedly asked the employee what incremental service the doctor provided to warrant the extra exam fee? Why was the doctor lining his pockets by double charging his customers?

“Perhaps you should call your insurance company if you have any more difficult questions!” That may be a futile effort; my insurance provider, Davis Vision, and Visionworks are both owned by the same company!

My daughter kicked me, apparently asking questions when something sounded shady was causing some discomfort for her and the sales person. At the risk of making a fool of myself, I was taking one for the team.

My line of work makes me a unique consumer, and forces me to think about the consumer while making marketing decisions. As business owners and marketers, we all need to reflect on the consumer perspective. But Visionworks doesn’t get it. We need to have straightforward descriptions of our services and policies that are fair and easy to explain to their customers. When there is a question or concern, we need to use the opportunity to build trust, mutual respect and ultimately… loyalty. In this case, Visionworks’ handling of the issue was a surefire way to sever our relationship after just one interaction.

Is it just me, am I overreacting?   Please comment.

~Posted by Gail Paxson Murray, Marketing Consultant
West Chester, Pennsylvania

One thought on “Why Visionworks doesn’t “get it.”

  1. Luis de Rivas says:

    Sadly you are not alone. I had a similar experience years ago. The problem is indeed systemic, however, the issue begins with the billing entity: the doctor. The doctor provides the service, codes the services, passes it to the billing service who in turn negotiates with the insurance for settlement, taking into account any pre-negotiated group-wise agreements.

    With regards to your case, you may have missed the contact specific tests to measure the eye surface for determining what size and type of contacts will be needed. It may have been performed at the beginning while taking other measurements. In medical billing parlance, it should have its own billing code, and simply be charged as an additional procedure contemporaneous with the glasses examination, and billed as a single visit. If this procedure was skipped, then you were indeed double billed, if not charged for a procedure that was not performed, which would make me question the competence of the doctor. In my case, the former was the matter, so I asked why their policy required separate exams, which in translated to separate visits from my Insurance company.

    They rapidly pointed to my Insurance company (Davis Vision), saying they required the billing formatted in that way. This made no sense to me since, it would appear, that Davis would be billed 2x for basic services. Turns out this is not the case because of pre-negotiated rates, which dramatically lowers the cost between the doctor and the insurance for both exams, however the customer is hit with a co-pay per exam! The truth: insurance companies directly influence the process for their benefit, and the doctors won’t give you any assistance since the process doesn’t affect their bottom line. It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated throughout all medical service professions, except maybe dentists and Oral Surgeons.

    Set aside your insurance for the moment, and enter the world of cash & carry, at a hospital: A friend of mine had no insurance for a acute ear infection. When he asked the doctor how much it was going to cost he got the typical response: “Never mind the cost. If you don’t have this operation very soon, you will die. Insurance should cover most the costs.” When he pointed out that he did not have insurance, get got the song and dance about financing. When he pressed for a cost summary, he was asked if he wanted a second opinion. The second opinion confirmed the first, and still did little to assuage cost fears, save a prepayment for $10,000, which went on a credit card. Successful operation and 3 weeks later, a bill arrives for the aggregate balance of $18,000! Nearly a year later, and under insurance that fortunately covered pre-existing conditions, he underwent surgery #2 to reconstruct the damaged parts. The amount billed to insurance was $21,000; the negotiated cost paid by insurance + deductible: $3,600. Less than 20% of what was billed; the original billed invoice a nearly 600% markup!!!

    So tell me: Why it is that when I take my car to a mechanic, I am by law, entitled to receive a written estimate, but not be entitled to the same for medical procedures that affect your health? Sure, you do not want to haggle if your life is in the balance, but if the Medical industry can codify 1000’s of procedures, surely doctors can quote standard procedures and potential incidentals. Why is it that most folks find it necessary to haggle over the mechanic’s service price, or work a bundled discount, but take a doctor’s quoted price as gospel? Why is it that I can expect car parts to sell for 20-40% markup from a garage (not the dealer) and reasonably quoted and industry established rates from a mechanic, but get hit with medical costs that are 100% to 800% of ‘true’ costs when they are otherwise negotiated? And, why is there such an excessive variance in costs from one hospital to another for the same procedure?

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