Keep an eye on price of glasses

While confusion reigns over the legality of selling glasses and contact lenses online, buyers can pick up good deals.

22 June 2009

MEDICAL insurance companies are pushing for changes to be made to the French spectacle market to get a better deal for customers and themselves.

It has already sparked a row between ophthalmologists and opticians – with the former denying insurance firms’ claims that opticians could take over prescription work – meanwhile the customer is stuck in the middle.

Lurking in the background is the spectre of the internet which is bringing in cheaper specs worldwide – but at the expense of hands-on testing, fitting and checking.

Most sources say, like the Syndicat des Opticiens sous Enseigne, that the sale of corrective lenses on the internet is illegal, although there is no restriction on people buying lenses online if they want.

However, the Direction de l’Hospitalisation et de l’Organisation des Soins has stated there is no such ban.

Online sales usually fail to meet the health department’s desire for people to get the best advice - they are unable to fit glasses to the wearer for a start - but a spokeswoman for the department said they neither looked to encourage or sanction such sites.

The EU Commission has told France to open up its market but France has said no, citing patients’ welfare.

At present, glasses and contact lenses can only be sold after first getting a prescription from an ophthalmologist. Opticians are not medical professionals and not part of the health service and that is why a separate ophthalmologist’s appointment is needed.

The ophthalmologist can provide treatment over and above providing corrective lenses, which is important for older people who may be at increased risk of eye disease.

An eye test will cost typically about €40 and the state’s reimbursement will be €15.

This can be supplemented at varying levels depending on your mutuelle (additional health insurance). It is possible that OAPs and the low-paid could get free treatment if they have the CMU complementaire but this depends on individual circumstances. (See our website for more on CMU complementaire.)

However, the low reimbursement has prompted some to suggest that France could protect patients better by boosting the very modest repayments from health authorities (Cpams.)

The rate looks generous at 65% but is calculated on such a low base that it amounts to a tiny fraction of actual cost.

However, there is next to no reimbursement for contact lenses – and laser corrective surgery is ignored completely. After an eye test, take your prescription to the opticians – and to get the best value you must visit more than one.

Make sure you get everything itemised on the optician’s written estimate. Then you can compare like for like values. This still means you could pay double what you would expect to pay in the UK.

Photo:Deutsche Fotothek

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