Once in a great while, someone comes along to shake up an industry in desperate need of transformation. Tom Mayer, the visionary founder of Direct Vision, might just be that bright light for the vision insurance industry.
Mayer, who is unapologetically passionate about bringing affordable vision and dental insurance to every American, says it was his father who inspired him to create Direct Benefits and its online storefronts, Direct Vision & Direct Vision Insurance, more than a decade ago. “My dad was a janitor for the St. Paul Public Schools for 35 years,” says Mayer. “He was so meticulous about cleaning those classrooms and the little kids’ restrooms. Yet, in spite of working with filthy toilets every day, he had the happiest-go-lucky attitude of anyone you’ve ever met. He could talk to absolutely anyone about just about anything and make them smile.”
But Mayer’s father suffered from diabetes. “Like most diabetics, Dad had a lot of tooth issues,” Mayer recalls. By industry standards, he had great health benefits, including dental insurance that covered $1,000 per calendar year. “But Dad was constantly going to the dentist for a root canal, a bridge, a partial denture, or more. Usually, he would have his $1,000 annual maximum spent in the first few weeks of January. After that, he’d have to pay 100% of his dental expenses out of his pocket for the rest of the year.” It was a financial and emotional drain on the entire family.
For Mayer, it was also a powerful motivating force, turning him into a crusader for both dental and vision health and dental and vision insurance. “From the beginning, I have always used my dad’s experience with dental insurance to keep innovating the plan.” Indeed, Spirit started offering a $2,000 annual maximum when most [if “most” is unacceptable, we could say “a lot”] providers were still at $1,000. “Today, we offer a $3,500 annual maximum, the choice of any dentist, three cleanings covered 100% per year, dental implant coverage, and no waiting periods, including most orthodontia,” says Mayer.
Yet, Mayer is quick to add that the dental insurance industry still has a long way to go. “We have a dental health crisis in this country,” he says. “There are already 130 million Americans with no dental insurance, and some industry changes are actually making the situation worse, especially for American retirees.” He points to current Medicare plans that don’t provide dental coverage, as well as some aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or “Obamacare”) that allow employer groups to drop active and retiree dental insurance programs. “Many of tomorrow’s retirees – nearly 80 million Baby Boomers – will struggle to find affordable dental insurance,” says Mayer. “I believe all of us share responsibility for solving this problem and I will never stop finding ways to make better insurance and better value available to everyone.”
Mayer, an energetic entrepreneur with 25 years of business successes under his belt, also brings his father’s happy-go-lucky communication style to Direct Vision & Direct Vision Insurance. A recent motivational video features a smiling Mayer as the Tooth Fairy, complete with pink tights, wings, and a giant toothbrush for a wand, urging everyone to learn about Direct Vision Insurance. As unorthodox as his approach might be, it seems to be working. “For most people, researching vision insurance can be overwhelming. It can be a challenge to find accurate information and even harder to know whom to trust. With directvision.com, I want to get people’s attention, make them smile, and make it easy for them to compare Direct Vision to anybody else.” If more people compared Direct Vision to other insurance companies, Mayer believes they would know what he knows. “We created Direct Vision to be the best vision insurance in America today. I don’t think anyone can disagree with me on that.”