Spectrum Vision Systems’ Preferred Vision Care (PVC) program has about 3,000 independent optometrists under contract to service approximately 1,350,000 members. (That number includes people employed by 5,000 companies and those employees’ dependents.)

PVC, which is sponsored by about 40 insurance companies as well as employers, operates as a member discount program, according to the company’s chairman and chief executive officer Paul J. Disser. The contract with dispensers is a uniform contract in that every patient, no matter who his employer is, receives the same benefit.

The fee paid to the doctor is a wholesale cost of product plus a dispensing fee. Disser declined to reveal the dispensing fees because they vary depending on whether the patient needs a single vision, multi-focal or progressive lens. The dispensing fee, however, is increased for extras such as tints and coatings.

PVC’s network operates with a total of 80 member laboratories, whose branches total about 180 locations in 45 states. The company uses member labs to make it easier to verify costs of product delivery and because of their ability to deliver overnight service, if necessary.

The plan is not an insured vision plan where the employer is paying fees up front to access a benefit on a contingency basis where they will be reimbursed in the future. Instead, the providers allow member patients access to specialized purchase arrangements. The patient pays the doctor directly at the point of service.

“From a cash flow standpoint, it’s a better arrangement for the doctor, ” said Disser. In fact, Spectrum offers member O.D.’s a service to facilitate payment. The company will install a credit card terminal that works like an electronic funds transfer, in the office free of charge. When the patient pays the doctor with a Visa or MasterCard, the doctor can have the money deposited in his own account between 24 and 48 hours later. “Most doctors who have used credit cards in the past have been charged upwards of 3 to 4 percent as a merchant’s fee,” said Disser. Spectrum has negotiated a fee of 2 1/2 percent for its providers.

Spectrum, which has been operating for 3 1/2 years, has introduced a new service for providers last spring, called “Preferred Vision Care Check Guarantee.” Disser described the service as a cash flow management program to allow providers to accept checks in any amount from any patient on a risk-free basis. Using a check authorization company called Telecredit, the provider can accept a check via an electronic point of sale terminal. If the check is returned unpaid, Telecredit guarantees payment.

Fee for membership is paid by an insurance company offering benefits to employers. Although the doctors currently are not charged a fee for belonging to the network of providers, it is something Spectrum is considering. “We have a provider fee, but we’ve waived it for the last two years. We wanted to generate a sufficient volume of new business for our doctors before we charged them anything.”

Spectrum has a selection committee to help choose its providers. Criteria for selection include the company’s geographic need based on its membership, credential of the doctors, licensing, number of years in practice, accessibility of their offices, size of staff and automation capabilities.