Restrictions of Online Glasses Sales

black framed eyeglasses beside laptop computer
Photo by Alexandr Borecky on

The sale of eyeglasses online should maintain or strengthen their regulations; deregulating online sales of prescription eyewear causes more harm to patients, opticians and refractionists than good. In the 2012 article “Rules Keep Needy B.C. Kids from Affordable Eyeglasses”, Kathy Tomlinson wrote about low income families being denied usage of their glasses subsidy for online purchases but did not explain why the government requires in person fittings and dispensing for all eyeglasses¹. Purchasing prescription eyewear over the internet may seem convenient and less expensive but there are several reasons why it is better to purchase glasses in person and why the Canadian government was not allowing the Medicaid benefit equivalent to be used to purchase from online shops.

Prescription eyeglasses can be expensive; the frames and lenses have separate prices and the options for lenses can send the invoice for a single pair upwards to $1,000. In her article, Tomlinson interviewed a single father of two teens who received government-funded medical assistance that found glasses online for his family that were cheaper than a store that he had gotten a quote from. The father was told that glasses for the family of three could cost him between $750-1,000 altogether—averaging up to $333 per pair– but explains that he could save 66% of that by purchasing the glasses from an online retailer¹. The spectacle benefit offered to low income residents of British Columbia is about $120 to $180 and patients are expected to pay the dollar amount over the allowance, which, according to the averages from his quote, would leave an out of pocket price of up over $150¹. The problem with all of these numbers is that we are not given the breakdown of costs to see what options were offered in the quote. The father of the teens may be over age 45, the age when patients start getting prescribed bifocal lenses, which are more expensive than single vision distance or reading glasses. Additionally, bifocal glasses can be made as a flat- top lined bifocal or as a progressive, or no-line, bifocal, which are more expensive and drive the cost of a single pair up to several hundred dollars. As Liz DeFranco, ABOC, NCLE points out in “Buying Glasses Online: A Good Idea?” (2017), lenses can be made in a number of different materials with a greater number of different coatings and this can greatly alter the price of the complete pair of glasses².

Although the father in the Tomlinson’s article felt that “there shouldn’t be any restriction on where to buy glasses”¹, there are numerous reasons why there are so many regulations against online glasses outfitters. First and foremost, glasses prescriptions are written on prescription paper because they are medical devices that are to be made specifically for a patient and all scripts are subject to rules and regulations. For prescribed lenses to aid vision, they have to be made very precisely so that the optical center of the lens, or area of the lens where light can pass through without deviation, is directly in front of the wearer’s pupil. When the optical center is off, the entire prescription is off and can cause strain and discomfort. The design of the frame and the cut of the lenses can both affect the placement of the optical center and that is why eyeglasses should always be measured by a dispensing optician². Government subsidies given for spectacles are required to be used at optical shops or physician offices where one can be physically measured before the glasses are made and properly fit once they have been completed to prevent mistakes and reduce the wastage of funds.

It can be easy for people, like the family in the article to think that the issue of purchasing glasses online with government funds has an easy fix, but there are reasons that the rules are in place. As previously mentioned, the placement of an ophthalmic lens is crucial to the fit of a pair of eyeglasses and when this measurement is off, the glasses can become unwearable. Where brick and mortar optical shops have return and exchange policies, many sales from online outfitters are final, even if the physician prescribed the wrong lenses². If a person used his or her eyeglass allowance on a pair made from an online store and the glasses are uncomfortable or fit improperly, the benefit for that individual has been used and in many cases, he or she would not be eligible for another benefit for an entire year or they would ask their insurance provider for an additional allowance for a new pair, wasting additional government funds. Most optical shops understand that glasses are pricy, especially for those with low or fixed incomes so the dispensaries offer a section of discount frames that are specifically for use with government subsidies.

Personally, I strongly believe that everyone should be entitled to basic healthcare and that anyone who needs glasses should be able to get them. The fact that many people are unable to afford glasses, even with an allowance, is disturbing and, although I agree that this is a matter that should be changed so that everyone can have glasses made, I believe that using online distributers for the spectacles is not a good option. There is a plethora of other options that would be more beneficial to recipients of government subsidies, such as raising the minimum benefit from $120 for a pair of glasses, a rate that surely has not been evaluated against inflation and market trends for years. Also, educating patients on eye health and why proper fit matters could help dispel the idea of price and convenience over what he or she actually needs. Patients should never have to debate between having vision and buying groceries, but purchasing eyeglasses through an online retail store is not the answer.

  1. Tomlinson, K. “Rules keep needy B.C. kids from affordable eyeglasses.” 24 September 2012. CBC News. 29 September 2018. <;.
  2. Defranco, L. Buying eyeglasses online: A good idea? August 2017. 29 September 2018. <;.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s