Friendships, like accidents, can sometimes result in a discovery, an invention and even a new way to look at old problems. That’s pretty much how Vision Care Direct got its start.
Over thirty years ago, conversations between friends and business colleagues uncovered a problem that many private practice optometrists shared. At that time, like today, these doctors were feeling the pinch from the large corporate vision plans that were forcing doctors to change the way they cared for patients. These plans were reimbursing at levels that were affecting the care doctors provided and were dictating where and who provided the materials prescribed to their patients.
Reid Nelson was an entrepreneur who owned and operated a specialty contact lens laboratory that served doctors in Utah, Arizona and across the country. Many of his friends and customers were optometrists who Reid spent countless hours with talking about the joys and challenges of caring for patients, running a business, and serving their customers and patients. In fact, Reid was married to a practicing optometrist so was hearing about these issues even while he was at home trying to relax.
Another friend, Dr. Todd Kimball was practicing in Utah and was a leader in the optometric community. Often Reid and Todd would discuss the state of the eye care market, and brainstorm about how they might approach the issues if they were assigned the task. After several years of discussing, arguing, and analyzing they decided to try to create a solution to address the problems. Reid made the monumental decision to leave the contact lens manufacturing business and dedicate both his time and financial resources to create Vision Care Direct in Utah and in 2000 its sister company, Eye Care Direct in Arizona. During that same time Dr. Kimball had been building an Independent Physician Association (IPA) to band doctors together to also work on the medical managed care side of vision. He believed that the fastest way for Vision Care Direct to reach acceptance from practicing doctors was to give them a voice not only in the vison plan arena but in contracting with managed care entities.
Reid and Dr Kimball wanted to address the pain points that their friends and colleagues in eye care were experiencing. At that time doctors were seeing shrinking reimbursements from both vision plans and medical plans while their costs escalated. The large corporate vision plans were dictating where doctors could buy their materials, what they had to provide and how much they were going to be paid.
As they analyzed these plans, they saw that there were opportunities to help providers be reimbursed better so they could provide the best possible care while at the same time offering consumers a way to receive that care affordably. By working with other vendors who had also been locked out of the vision plan end of eye care, Reid and Dr Kimball created a synergistic relationship with those vendors that helped fund the early days of IPA building, vision plan marketing and doctor patient education.
Next, Reid and Dr. Kimball went to New Mexico. Dr. Kimball had relationships with providers in New Mexico and the geographic proximity made sense as Reid was relocating to Arizona. The next state on their hit list was Kansas. Kansas had the longest continually operating optometric IPA in the country, had experience working in the managed care arena and included 95% of all optometrists in the state. Reid had met Dr. Ron Fiegel, the IPA president, years earlier before starting Vision Care Direct during a conference call about optometric inclusion in managed care. Dr. Fiegel had left a lasting impression on Reid due to his keen ability to probe issues and ask the right questions. Dr. Fiegel was an established leader in the optometric community in Kansas himself, had helped engineer several managed care contracts for IPA members and had a strong belief in his profession and its value to the health care system. Because of its longevity and success in managed care, Vision Care Plus, the Kansas IPA was also well known by doctors across the country along with the Kansas Optometric Association which was leading optometry in scope of care legislation.
Reid and Dr. Kimball knew that getting cooperation and participation in a state like Kansas would potentially catapult them ahead and give them legitimacy in other states as they continued to grow Vision Care Direct across the country, so they headed to Kansas in 2001. Once Kansas was involved it opened doors in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma and Vision Care Direct was able to start expanding its provider network across the country.
Eventually doctors in 34 states were participating with Vision Care Direct either through local IPAs or through direct recruitment. While changes in the market have forced some consolidation and changes in the way VCD operates, the company continues to bring innovation and a unique approach to the market.
Vision Care Direct places care at the heart of everything they do whether it relates to consumers who need eye care, the groups who need a way to provide an affordable eye care benefit to their employees, brokers who are seeking a partner in providing those benefits or providers who need reasonable reimbursement in order to better serve their patients. Vision Care Direct started with the idea that vison plans should be a “win” for everyone involved and still operates with that core value in place.