Rebates are, at best, wacky. At worst, they are a plot to destroy your will to live. Still, rebates are the feel-good film of the year… the Christmas movie where the girl takes over her sick mother’s hardware store and then learns that people can buy hammers and nails online much cheaper than she can buy them wholesale. Don’t worry, she’ll fall in love with the delivery drone and live happily ever after.

The Problem 

So, our labs quietly charge us more per box than they charge some company who purchases 100+ boxes per day, more than we ever could. They then explain that we can “beat” the big box/online prices by dangling the oh-so-seductive rebate in front of the patient like holding a brisket up in front of a starving pit bull.  

Does it work? Pretty much, at least for offices that supply a year’s batch of contacts as a matter of fact. Not so much for you namby-pamby doctors who fear rejection so much you ask dumb questions like, “How many boxes do you want?” or “Wanna buy lenses here?” 

At least the rebate gives every office the chance to make a case for patients to purchase their contact lenses from their trusted doctor who (a) will be sure they are safe and correct and (b) will get them to you in a convenient and timely fashion.  

But not all patients are accounting majors. If the online price is listed as $25 per box and the patient needs four boxes a year, that’s $100 per year, right? Uh, not exactly. Shipping and handling discounts only kick in at eight boxes, for example.

At your office, the per-box charge is $33, an exorbitant $132 a year! The rebate is $50, assuming the patient remembers to send it in on time. You know they will send it in on Tuesday if it’s due Monday, and it will get lost in the mail.  

As a consequence, you, their trusted eye doctor for 25 years, are now a crooked jerk for the extra $32, you thief! You would have been better off just handing them $32. Heck, you would have been better off handing them the lenses for free, considering how much time you spent checking it out, calling the sales rep and then discussing how your office decided $33 per box was fair in the first place. 

The Solution?

When you gripe to your contact lens sales rep, they just smile. If you gripe a little more, they pull out the big guns and show you the new rebates. The design team has done an amazing job, and I think each rebate form is coated with Prozac because you will feel a sudden sense of calm. It’s really nice. 

Now your contact lens problems are over. Except the new rebate is less than last year’s, so now you get to explain why that happened to your long-time patient.

Even better, when you switch a patient from one contact lens company to another, the first rebate is higher than if you keep them in the lens design they have used for years. That’s right, contact lens companies like to undervalue loyalty. Weird.  

I think the rebate should increase each year the patient supports the same company. After, let’s say, 10 years, the 11th year’s supply should be free. Also, this escalating rebate should be null and void the first time the patient goes online instead of buying from their optometrist. 

The origin of the word rebate is the old Anglo-Norman French word rebatre. It literally meant to beat back or repel. No wonder I hate rebates. They’re dangerous!