Eye exams, glasses and contacts have traditionally been an expensive proposition for those without vision insurance. However, low-cost eye care is available.
Maintaining healthy eyes is a key part of health care, yet many Americans overlook or put off tending to this important aspect of their health and well-being. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 million adults in the US are at a high risk of developing serious vision loss, but only half of them have visited an eye doctor in the last year.
In many cases, that's because vision care is too expensive. Roughly half of adults in the US go without vision insurance, which isn't included in standard health plans. And without insurance, a typical eye exam costs about $184. Add in the cost of glasses or contacts, and it's no surprise that many Americans avoid going to the eye doctor or keeping their prescription up to date.
Getting an eye exam without insurance doesn't have to be overly costly, though. There are several ways to find cheap eye exams or low-cost eye care, and we'll explore them here.
Some of the best places to look for eye exams or glasses without insurance are discount eye exam centers or online glasses retailers. There are quite a few options, but our favorites are:
If you just need new lenses for an existing frame, you can save money by checking out online options for replacement lenses. For contact lens-wearers, learn how to extend the life of your contacts to save money in the long run.
The above retailers may still be too costly for some, but they aren't the only options for eye exams without insurance. Many programs offer free eye care or low-cost options for those who qualify, including:
If you're willing to receive care from students studying optometry or ophthalmology, many schools offer cheap eye care and free eye exams for patients. Students conducting the exam are supervised, so you can still be confident you're getting quality care. You may also find opportunities to participate (for free) in college research studies.
Look for participating schools here, and call any schools in your area to inquire about student exam programs and costs.
Participants in Medicare or Medicaid may also have options when it comes to finding low-cost eye care.
Medicaid, which provides free health care for low-income children and some low-income adults, generally offers some level of vision care. All Medicaid plans include eye exams and glasses for children under age 21, but coverage for adults varies by state. You may be able to get free eye exams, glasses or both. To find out what Medicaid covers in your state, contact your state Medicaid agency. Children who are ineligible for Medicaid may be able to get vision coverage through their state's Children's Health Insurance Program.
Medicare is a program for adults over 65 and some people with disabilities. It generally doesn't offer vision coverage, but it does help with certain eye conditions, including cataracts, dry eye, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
You may be able to get more extensive vision coverage through a Medicare Advantage program. This Medicare-approved coverage is offered through private insurers and often includes vision coverage for eye exams, glasses and contacts.
Eye exams are an essential but often neglected piece of the health care puzzle for many Americans -- and that's largely due to cost. But there are many services designed to remove these cost barriers by making eye exams and glasses more affordable and accessible for everyone.
If you're struggling to pay for vision care, check out the many local and online retailers, as well as several national programs, to see if you can get the care you need for a cost you can manage.