Vision Therapy Center 'Pencils In' Appointment Without Full Consent, Then Charges $50 No Show Fee

Elysse was told by an optometrist to consider “vision therapy” as a treatment for her child’s strabismus (crossed eyes), but the business she was sent to—Children’s Vision and Learning in Versailles, Kentucky—turned out to be one of those places where selling is their top priority, and medical care simply the product being sold. After being lied to about the cost, given a hard sell during the first appointment, and even being asked, “Don’t you care about your child’s vision?”, Elysse decided to look elsewhere. Now, four months after the experience, the business is billing her $50 for a “penciled in” appointment she never agreed to keep in the first place.

Elysse writes,

I’m having a bit of a problem with a ‘Vision Therapy’ place called Children’s Vision and Learning in Versailles, Kentucky.

Earlier this year I was referred to this place for one of my 4-year old twins’ strabismus by my mother-in-law’s optometrist (who happened to be related to the proprietor of said problematic place, as I later found out). This new optometrist suggested I treat my kid’s strabismus with Vision Therapy and then went on for about half an hour about how great it was, etc, don’t I want the best for my child?, etc.. really trying to sell me this treatment. After I agree to try it he sends me to the front desk to make an appointment. The woman at the desk tells me it’s $350 up-front at the first appointment and that Insurance didn’t cover the therapy (first red flag). I specifically ask her if it’s $350 for the entire therapy treatment and she tells me yes. I go back home and do a little research on the subject, still not exactly decided either way.

One month later I show up with my kid and am ready to start the “treatment”. As I’m waiting I strike up a conversation with one of the other moms in the room and I ask her “Do you think this helps your son?” and she tells me “No, but medicaid pays for it.” After my prior reading I noticed another red flag I wouldn’t have otherwise picked out before: this place also claims Vision Therapy can treat dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and one or two other behavioral issues. Pretty soon it’s my kid’s turn to go in the back.

That first treatment? It was an entire appointment of being upsold on Vision Therapy and the woman actually said to me “Don’t you care about your child’s vision?”. Oh, that $350 for treatment? That was just for this appointment, they actually wanted somewhere in the range of $1500, due at the next appointment in full, and also told me that at my kid’s age I’d probably have to do it again in a year.

I said there was NO WAY we could afford that, and that I wanted to do a treatment that was a little more orthodox (and insurance covered). She hands me yet more VT literature, documents that I didn’t sign (so I could sign them at home, naturally), a brochure for a Health Credit Card, followed with a lecture on how to send in insurance claims anyway (“We’ll give you the codes, and the key is persistence: if you call and one person denies your claim, call again later until you get it approved.”)

She then says “I’ll pencil your name in for an appointment anyway, since we fill up so quickly normally. So-and-So has just finished her VT so that opens a slot for you next month!”

So I’m out $350 for basically being a captive audience to a salesperson, and she milked it.. even going as far as to try to convince my 4-year-old daughter that’s what she needed so somehow my icy heart would melt or something.

By the way, if anyone else is in this situation: the American Association for Pediatric Strabismus (who knew?) does NOT support Vision Therapy as an effective treatment (which would be why my insurance didn’t cover), and there are several places that warn about VT. VT does NOT treat any behavioral or brain-related dysfunction effectively.

The next month I get a phone call from Children’s Vision and Learning. The receptionist was snippy and asked me “We were just wondering why you didn’t show up for your appointment today..” and I told them that I hadn’t planned on it; we couldn’t afford it and I was getting a second opinion. The receptionist asked “When did you know this?” and I said, “Pretty soon after I left the last time”. She snapped, “Well, I’m sorry you don’t care about your child’s vision.” and hung up on me.

That was July, this last week (November!) I received a bill from this place. Apparently I’m now on the hook for a $50 “No Show Fee” for July. I’ve tried calling them but they haven’t been answering their phones. What the heck do I do now?

We’re obviously not experts on vision therapy, but the few reports we read online today seem to conclude that there’s not consistent proof it works for treating learning disabilities that are brain-based, but that it can be effective for something like strabismus if the cause is muscle-related. However, that’s not really the issue here—Elysse can always do more research on her own, get second and third opinions, find out what her insurance will cover, and then make a decision on treatment. The issue is that she found herself dealing with a predatory medical office where patients are treated like shoppers, and where the staff is focused on making a sale to the exclusion of everything else

So about that $50 bill, Elysse: send a certified letter to the office and explain that you in no way consented to a follow-up appointment, and that the pushy receptionist said she’d “pencil you in” anyway without your permission. There will be readers who will say that you didn’t stand up for yourself enough if you didn’t make her erase that semi-appointment, but we feel if you say “No” once and the salesperson still tries to force you into a corner, it’s no longer your problem. The whole phrase “pencil you in” reeks of “Well I’ll ignore your wishes and pretend you said yes anyway, so that I can continue to try to sell to you.”

And after all, they could have easily called a week in advance to confirm that the tentative appointment would be kept, and removed it from their calendar if they couldn’t speak to you.

You should ask the office to send a copy of the bill adjusted to show that you in fact owe nothing. Give them a two week window to do this, and make it clear that if they continue to bill you for this, you will be reporting them to your state’s Attorney General. (You want a copy of the bill showing you’re free and clear so that you’ll have evidence, in case the $50 charge shows up on your credit report in the future.)

(Photo: Getty Images)