Getting Eye Exams and Eyeglasses When You Don’t Have Insurance
The Vision Council reports that 164 million American adults wear glasses. If you’re among them, you probably know that glasses can be very expensive. The average American pays $127 for frames alone — that’s not counting the price of eye exams or lenses.
Vision insurance can cover some of these costs. However, if you don’t have vision insurance, you could be left with a hefty bill after an eye exam.
Fortunately, there are ways to bring down your costs. Multiple programs can help people with low incomes afford their eye exams and eyeglasses. Plus, discount eye exam centers and online retailers can help you get the eye care you need without the high price tag.
Multiple programs offer free or low-cost eye exams and eyewear to people with limited incomes. You’ll need to meet certain income and other requirements to qualify. Nationally available programs include:
- EyeCare America. This program provides free eye exams to people ages 65 and older who are at high risk of glaucoma. EyeCare America doesn’t provide eyewear prescriptions.
- Vision USA. This program from the American Optometric Association matches people with low incomes to free eye exams from participating providers. In some states, the program will also cover the cost of glasses.
- Lions Club International. The Lions Club pays for eye care at local club locations. Some locations also provide eyeglasses.
- New Eyes. You’ll need a professional, such as an eye doctor or a social worker, to recommend you to this program. It provides free eyeglasses to both adults and children with low incomes. New Eyes doesn’t pay for eye exams.
- OneSight’s OnSite Voucher Program. This program is backed by Luxottica, the parent company of LensCrafters, Target Optical, Sears Optical, and Pearle Vision. It provides free eyeglasses to people with limited incomes. To be eligible, you’ll need to have your income and vision needs verified by a nonprofit such as a school, church, or Red Cross location. You can then take your referral letter and prescription to any store in the Luxottica family for a free pair of glasses.
Many optometry schools provide low-cost or even free eye exams conducted by a supervised student of optometry.
Some optometry schools also provide care to people who are willing to participate in research studies. You can use this link to search for schools in your area. Note that the exams and care provided will depend on the optometry school.
Most medical insurance doesn’t pay for vision care. However, if you have Medicaid, you might have some vision coverage.
The exact services covered by Medicaid depend on your state. In states that do include vision coverage with Medicaid, coverage for exams and eyeglasses is often available. Vision coverage is always included as part of Medicaid for people 21 and younger.
Medicare doesn’t pay for routine eye care. You can’t use it to get a vision exam or glasses. However, Medicare will cover some vision care if you have one of the following conditions:
Additionally, while original Medicare doesn’t provide vision coverage, most Medicare Advantage plans do. Check the details of your plan to see if you have this coverage. You can check online or by calling your Medicare Advantage plan company.
There are discount eye exam centers in multiple locations. You’ll often find them in malls or even inside big-box stores. These centers tend to have much lower prices than traditional optometry offices. They might also offer deals, discounts, and specials. Discount exam centers include:
- America’s Best. America’s Best is a chain eye exam center that offers eye exams for a flat rate of $45. They also offer deals on glasses and discounts if you join their eye care club.
- EyeCare America. EyeCare America locations offer exams for a flat rate of $89. You can also join their membership program for free exams and other discounts.
- Target Optical. Target Optical locations offer basic exams for around $55. They also offer low-priced glasses.
- Walmart Vision Center. Walmart offers eye exams for around $60. They also offer a selection of low-priced glasses.
- Costco and Sam’s Club. You’ll need to be a member to get an exam at either Costco or Sam’s Club, but if you are, these exams can be a good deal. Exams at Costco start at around $80. Exams at Sam’s Club start at around $50.
Online retailers offer very low-priced glasses. Both frames and lens are often cheaper at these retailers than at traditional optometry offices.
However, keep in mind that these prices are often only for basic lenses. If you need a high prescription strength, bifocals, or other specialized lenses, you might see a jump in price. Some popular discount online retailers include:
Multiple programs can help children get the eye care and glasses they need. Some programs have income limits, while others are open to everyone. Programs include:
- InfantSEE. This national program from the American Optometric Association provides a free eye exam during a child’s first year of life. There are no family income limits for this program.
- VSP Global Sight for Students. You’ll need to work with a school or another community organization to get matched with this program that provides glasses to children from low-income households.
- Medicaid. Children can get routine vision care, including exams and glasses, through Medicaid. The exact coverage available will depend on your state.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Low-income households who don’t meet the eligibility requirements for Medicaid can get health insurance for children through CHIP. Children covered by CHIP can get eye exams, glasses, and other routine eye care.
Eye exams and glasses can be a large expense. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to find free or low-cost eye care.
National programs offer eye care to people with limited incomes. For people who don’t meet those requirements or have vision insurance, discount vision enters and online retailers can be a good option.
For children, programs like Medicaid, CHIP, and VSP Global Sight for Students can help make vision care affordable.