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.
Where is the cheapest place to get an eye exam?
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:
- America’s Best: This popular chain offers eye exams for $59, or you can buy two pairs of glasses for $80 and get the eye exam for free.
- Costco: Not all Costco locations have a Costco Optical, but this can be a good option if your nearest Costco offers it. Exams range between $50 and $100, but you’ll need a Costco membership first.
- EyeBuyDirect: Online glasses retailers have exploded over the past decade, and EyeBuyDirect offers some of the best deals for glasses without insurance. Frames start as low as $6, and basic prescription lenses are very affordable.
- Eyeglass Word: Another online retailer, Eyeglass World, offers deals on glasses as low as two pairs for $89. The company also offers eye exams at more than 100 locations around the US.
- GlassesUSA: This online retailer offers similar deals to those you’ll find at Eyeglass World, with a variety of discounts and sales to make glasses without insurance even more affordable.
- Jonas Paul: The costs of eye care can add up quickly for families, but Jonas Paul aims to change that. Based on Warby Parker’s model of home try-on kits and donating a pair of glasses for every pair you buy, Jonas Paul offers affordable, stylish glasses for children and teenagers, starting at $59.
- Sam’s Club: As with Costco, you’ll need a Sam’s Club membership to access this benefit. Eye exams range between $50 and $100, on average.
- Target and Walmart: If you’d rather not get a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club, you can still get cheap eye exams while you shop at Target or Walmart. Eye exams at these major retailers also fall in the $50 to $100 range.
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.
Check out national programs for eye care
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:
- EyeCare America: This program, run by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers free or discounted eye exams to people over age 65 and to those with a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
- InfantSEE: The American Optometric Association provides free eye exams for any children between six and 12 months old, regardless of income level.
- Lions Club International: Lions Club offers free or discounted eye care, and many of its locations provide glasses.
- New Eyes: Although this program doesn’t offer free eye exams, New Eyes provides a free pair of glasses to qualifying low-income applicants. It’s best to have your eye doctor or a social worker apply on your behalf.
- OneSight OnSite Voucher Program: OneSight is a foundation launched by EssilorLuxottica, which also owns brands such as Lens Crafters and Target Optical. To take advantage of its free eyeglasses, you’ll need to have your eyes checked through a local nonprofit such as a church, school or Red Cross. Once they verify your need for financial assistance, they can connect you with OneSight.
- Vision USA: Another service from the American Optometric Association that provides free eye exams — and glasses in some states — to uninsured, low-income families through various partners.
- VSP Eyes of Hope: Similar to Vision USA, this program provides no-cost eye care to uninsured families below certain income levels.
See an optometrist student
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.
Medicare or Medicaid may help cover 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.