Life and Money With Helaine by Helaine Olen

Medical Expense Etiquette

Hi, Helaine: My ophthalmologist sells contact lenses. Glasses, too. I used to buy my prescription lenses from his office, but about two years ago, I noticed they were significantly less money at an online store. So I am now ordering them that way. That’s good, right? But it’s awkward. The receptionist always asks if I need to reorder “again” when I come in for my annual checkup. So does the doctor. They both obviously recall when I did buy the contact lenses at the medical practice. I say no and look away. Is there a method to handle this so I feel less embarrassed? Or do I need to find another doctor who takes my insurance and start anew? -- Seeing Red

Dear Seeing Red: Repeat after me: You are not in the wrong. You have nothing to feel embarrassed about. And, by the way, neither does the doctor or the receptionist, as long as they are not aggressive about pushing the service on you. Many eye doctors supplement their earnings by selling contact lenses and eyeglasses and the like in their offices. They aren’t the only doctors who do this, by the way. Have you ever visited a dermatologist’s office and not seen a pile of skin potions for sale? You are absolutely not obliged to buy any of this stuff.

But ... it sounds like you would like to continue giving your business to the doctor’s practice, or you would if the price for the contact lenses were the same. So here’s my advice: When you go in for your next annual checkup, and they ask you to purchase the lenses, say you would love to do that but you found them for a lower price online. They might well ask you what that price is and offer to match it. Think about it from their perspective for a moment: They don’t know why you suddenly ceased buying from them. They would probably like to know the answer to that. And by telling them the truth -- lenses are cheaper elsewhere -- you are giving them the choice of how to handle the matter.

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