With Vision Service Plan (VSP), the bottom line of the eye chart won't read U-O-W-E-B-I-G. The firm is a top managed eye care benefits provider that serves 58 million members in the US, Canada, and the UK. Its VSP Vision Care programs offer coverage ranging from general plans (eye exams and eyewear) to laser vision correction procedures through a network of about 29,000 preferred doctors. Behind the managed care business is VSP's vertically-integrated eye care and eye wear business including frame manufacturing (Marchon Eyewear), optical labs, and optical practice management services. Founded in 1955 by a group of optometrists, VSP operates as a not-for-profit organization.
Outside its California headquarters (in Rancho Cordova) and Eastern Operations Center in Ohio (Columbus), VSP has about 25 regional offices throughout the US. The VSPOne optical laboratories unit has seven labs scattered across the US as well.
The Marchon Eyewear unit makes collections of eyeglasses under popular brands including Calvin Klein, Nautica, and Nike. Another Marchon division provides custom interiors and merchandising systems for optical offices. Other VSP businesses include Eyefinity, which provides doctors with practice management software, and VSP Optics, which delivers ophthalmic products to physicians and provides optical lab services through owned (VSPOne) and partnered facilities.
Sales and Marketing
The company contracts with some 43,000 business clients, including government agencies and some 120 managed-care health plans, to offer employee benefits. it also markets eye care plans to individuals. VSP sells its vision plans through a network of about 16,000 national brokers -- including consultants, independent agents, general agents, and national brokerage firms -- as well as through its own direct sales force.
VSP aims to provide integrated eye care services to its members, reducing the need for external services. For instance, in 2011 it launched an online store for members to order eyewear and contact lenses. The company's Marchon Eyewear and VSP Optics units also introduce new product lines to please consumers, such as the UNITY digital progressive lenses in 2012.
The company also maintains provider relations by offering a comprehensive array of support services, including procurement, logistics, and IT support, and it regularly seeks to add new providers to its network.
Mergers and Acquisitions
To further its vertical integration, VSP acquired eyeglass maker Marchon Eyewear in 2008. The purchase cost VSP $735 million. Its existing eyewear manufacturing operations, Altair Eyewear, became a division of Marchon.
Though VSP continues to operate as a not-for-profit, the company's tax-exempt status was revoked in 2003 after an IRS audit said it failed to meet the criteria. VSP paid its tax bill but sued the government to regain the funds and the not-for-profit status it held for 40 years.
The US District Court in Sacramento ruled against VSP (and in 2009 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case), but the company has not given up and plans to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS "as soon as possible." VSP claims it should have tax-exempt status because about 40% of the company's business is serving the poor through government programs, it spends 85% of its income on reimbursement payments, and because it has provided millions in free eye wear and eye care services through its community outreach programs.