The Quandary of Eyewear

As a kid, waiting at the bus stop on Horace Harding Boulevard for the Q-17 to Downtown Flushing, I could read the destination sign and know which bus it actually was, while it was blocks away. My eyes were good.

I got my first reading glasses about 10 years ago, and have now moved to bifocals (progressive, for vanity’s sake). As time has gone by, the reading prescription has gotten a little stronger. It’s a vicious cycle.

Those few times when I can’t wear glasses – trying to see whether it’s conditioner or shampoo in the shower – I am helpless. Words which were once clear are now smudges.

Two years ago, again for vanity’s sake, I tried bifocal contact lenses. Despite what is advertised, there is no such thing. Or, maybe there are contact bifocals. They just don’t work!

I went through four or five different pairs. Sometimes my sight was sharp up close and fuzzy far. At other times it was the complete opposite. At no time could I see anywhere near as well as I see with glasses. It was a compromise beyond what I was willing to make.

The whole idea of contact lens bifocals seems like science fiction. With glasses, your eyes move, the glasses sit still, and so you look through a different area with a different prescription. With contacts, as your eye moves, so do the lenses. How could you be looking through different prescriptions?

The last time I had a new prescription for my eyes was when I tried the contacts two years ago. Over the past few months, the glare and/or scratch resistant coating on my glasses had started to discolor and spot. And, my eyes have continued to weaken. Time for new glasses.

We have eye care insurance at work, and so I made an appointment with the national chain our plan suggests and headed over. The exam was fine.

Well, it was fine for an eye exam. Is there anyone who really knows if they’re giving the right answer when the optometrist says, “Which is sharper, this… or this?”

And then there’s the point when a puff of air is blown into your eyes!

After the exam, I headed over to the table where you actually buy your glasses. How can eyeglass frames cost more than a computer motherboard… or DVD-RW? This must be the highest markup business known to man. And the screws still come out from time-to-time.

With two years of good wear, and a look I like, I decided to keep these old frames and just replace the lenses. That’s progressive bifocals with scratch resistant and anti-glare coating – no frames. Want to take a guess?

It was around $400! And, I have insurance. This was after the insurance. I was incensed, stood up, and walked out.

At the time, I didn’t know if that was the right or wrong move, but, I felt it was ridiculous to pay that much for something that is, after all, a commodity. The glasses at any two shops should be exactly the same if they’re made to fill a prescription.

Directly across the street was another chain eyeglass place. I walked in. Another guess?

Same job, $277. And, my insurance doesn’t even come into play. Even the $277 seems high, but considering the first number I ordered them on the spot.

With all this behind me, I sent an email to the benefits director at our company. He handles insurance for the hundreds of employees at our many stations. My point to him was, what’s the use of the company paying if no one is getting a benefit we couldn’t get without the insurance? It’s not the company’s fault. They think they’re giving a benefit to their employees. And he agreed.

He called his contact from our insurance company, who said something didn’t seem quite right. And that’s where I left it.

This story’s not over yet.

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