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Kids and Health Care: Vision Care

In terms of insurance and financial matters, vision coverage is similar to dental -- it's rarely life-threatening or catastrophically expensive, so it's considered something that you should pay for yourself.

Vision care is typically covered on a scheduled basis that pays a fixed dollar amount for examinations, lenses and frames. In short, vision care is a classic "fringe benefit."

Your kids' eyes should be checked at least once a year so you'll know when they need corrective lenses. If your child can't see well, he or she will have a hard time concentrating, responding in school and doing homework. Schools often provide vision tests, but you should check to make sure they are being done regularly. If not, ask your child's doctor to conduct an exam during the annual wellness checkup. If you find your child squinting a lot or complaining of headaches, it's time to get an eye exam.

As with dental coverage, vision care is frequently offered as an optional coverage under group plans and benefits packages at larger companies. This vision care usually focuses on periodic eye exams and -- most importantly -- coverage of eye-glasses, contact lenses and other corrective hardware.

As with dental care, employers will often set up vision care on a self-insured or direct reimbursement model. And, as with dental care, if your employer doesn't offer vision care, you'll end up paying for eye exams and glasses out of your pocket.

The good news here is that vision care usually requires less professional service than dental care does. Vision problems are -- in most cases -- well categorized and can be diagnosed, based on standard tests. Also, the question of whether a prescription works or not can be answered easily: The person wearing glasses or contacts can say whether they make a difference, even if that person is a child.

As a result, the providers of vision care are different than doctors and even dentists. Ophthalmologists (eye doctors) and certainly optometrists (glasses and contact lens makers) tend to be more service-oriented than their colleagues in other fields. This may have something to do with the fact that there's more competition in their category.

In some cases, vision plans are just membership groups that negotiate volume-based discounts from larger vision-care providers. For a fee -- as low as $20 and as much as $100 a year -- you get a membership card that entitles you to discounts on eye exams, glasses and contacts. These discounts (usually in the 50 percent range for eyewear) often are good at a wide variety of stores, including most of the major chains.

Some plans offer contact lenses at a discount if you buy them through the mail.

If you have children who need glasses, these plans are usually cost-effective.

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