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NEW YORK—The impact of a global pandemic has furthered a crescendo of new attitudes among patients toward how they want to pay, if they can afford to pay and the methods they are able to use to pay for their health care.

Such concerns were in place prior to March of 2020 when COVID-19 threw so much into question, as most market experts agree. The retail and product worlds have been irrevocably changed by an escalation in online, digital and contactless payment options transforming those businesses for the past two years.

At the same time, the entire U.S. health care system of hospitals, primary care networks, private practitioners, insurance payers and specialty care providers—including eyecare—are seeing both a greater awareness of the complexity of payment systems and benefits as well as visible inequities and imbalance among Americans in general about the affordability of health care, most experts say.

Further, several recent authoritative studies in the payments world have corroborated that the concerns about the costs of health care have skyrocketed among all Americans, regardless of age and income bracket. Retail and e-commerce changes—and consumers’ increased interactions with both of these for the past two years—are also absolutely impacting a new set of expectations and choices of where patients can access their care.

Patients are asking how and for what they are being billed, and they often do not have a consistent understanding about what different health care services will cost them. Many find it a burden to absorb out of pocket costs or understand what their insurance—including vision care and health care benefits—takes care of until they begin to use them.

For the majority of patients, the pandemic is not over. Increased competition and a movement toward value-based care is escalating, as Health Affairs reported at the start of this year. “Despite the pandemic, billions were invested in start-up companies built to take risk, leverage telehealth and apps, and deliver more cost-effective primary, home and specialty care—capabilities that got turbo-charged during the pandemic.”

Health Affairs noted, citing a RockHealth report, “In fact, in 2020, nearly $15 billion was invested in digital health and other technologies designed to disrupt traditional providers in the quest to provide lower-cost, higher-quality population health. In 2021, that figure jumped to more than $29 billion. These companies continue to disrupt fee-for-service by innovating targeted care delivery and services, winning loyal payer partners and patients alike.”

So, how will all of this impact eyecare and eye health services and payment for eyewear/vision correction solutions for both providers and patients? VM has learned that 2022 is likely to see a further drive toward these trends:

• More transparency to patients and customers—offering, when possible, upfront pricing for care, services, tests and product options.

• More financing and payment options to help patients—those with existing health care or vision insurance as well as those who are not covered at all and are straining financially to manage vision care and product choice.

• Inflation is now a key headwind. As PYMTS recently reported, inflation and COVID variants pose fresh challenges for “paycheck-to-paycheck” consumers in 2022. A growing number of shoppers, in fact, categorize themselves as living paycheck to paycheck—more than 60 percent do, up from the mid 50 percent level as recently as 10 months ago.

Vision and eyewear providers will want to convey to their patients that they are responsive and actively offering options to help facilitate not only necessary routine eyecare exams and eyewear choices, but also to encourage other eye health options such as retinal scans, dry eye or myopia treatments among the many specialty care options now coming onstream.