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How to Pay for Eye Procedures You Cannot Afford

Regular eye care is a necessity of life, especially if you live with a vision impairment. However, many people cannot afford to pay for things like eye exams, corrective eyewear and eye surgery. 

woman stressed about medical bills

If you cannot pay for the eye care you need, there are many programs that may be able to help. These programs may cover eye exams, eyeglasses and contacts, eye surgery, or other eye care needs.

Costs of Procedures

There are many forms of eye care a person might need throughout their lifetime. The estimated costs of some of the most common are listed below, including costs with and without insurance. 

With Insurance Without Insurance
Eye Exams Often fully covered
(may involve a small copay)
National average of $114
Glasses Often fully covered up to
a certain amount (may involve a
small copay)
Up to $600
Contacts Copays of $25 to $120 yearly $150 to $400 yearly depending
on whether disposable or
non-disposable lenses are used
Emergency Procedures Typically covered by health
or vision insurance with copays
and/or coinsurance between
10% to 50%
$5,000 to $10,000 for retinal
detachment treatment, the
most common emergency
eye procedure
Eye Surgery Typically covered by health or
vision insurance with copays and/or
coinsurance between 10% to 50%
(may not be covered if it is not
considered medically necessary)
$2,500 per eye for LASIK
Up to $11,000 for glaucoma surgery
Up to $20,000 for cataract surgery
$27,000 for a corneal transplant
Prescribed Treatments
(Medications,
Eye Patches, Eye Drops, etc.)
Typically covered by health
insurance with copays and/or
coinsurance between 10% to 50%
$1,000 a year for eyedrops
to treat glaucoma
$3,600 for dry eye lubricants
$65,000 for a full course of injections
to treat macular degeneration

Note: these costs are only estimates. Actual costs vary depending on factors like location, case complexity and the skill level of the doctor carrying out the treatment. 

If you have significant eye health problems, ask your eye doctor for an estimate of the cost of your treatment. They will be able to provide you with a more precise estimate based on the unique factors of your case. 

What Is Not Covered by Insurance

Not all eye care is covered by vision insurance. Insurance typically does not cover:

  • Lens upgrades
  • Designer frames (coverage may be available up to a specified dollar amount)
  • Laser eye surgery (LASIK)
  • Medical testing and diagnosis related to your eyes (may be covered by general health insurance)
  • Cataract surgery or retinal detachment surgery (may be covered by general health insurance)
  • Glasses and contacts for the same person in a single benefit period

Some of these procedures and treatments may be covered by your health insurance plan. If you have health insurance, review your coverage to see if it can help you reduce your out-of-pocket cost. If you are not sure where to find this information in your policy documents, ask your insurance company for guidance. 

Programs That May Help

There are many programs available that may help you cover the cost of necessary eye care. Some of the costs they might assist with include:

  • Eye exams
  • Glasses and contacts
  • Eye surgery

Eye Exams

  • EyeCare America offers free eye exams for seniors ages 65 and older. These exams are meant to identify the early signs of eye health conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts and do not include any vision testing. Free exams are also available for people of any age who are at high risk of developing glaucoma. 
  • Vision Service Plan’s Eyes of Hope program offers eye exam gift certificates for people living on low incomes. To qualify, you must have a family income of less than double the federal poverty line and have no vision coverage available to you. 
  • Sight for Students is the children’s version of the Eyes of Hope program. It offers free eye exam gift certificates for individuals under age 18 with a family income of less than double the poverty line and no private or public vision coverage. 
  • The Lions Club funds free eye exams for Americans in need. There are no set eligibility criteria for this program. Each applicant’s case is reviewed individually. Contact them to explain your situation and request funding.
  • Vision to Learn provides free eye exams for children in low-income neighborhoods through the school system. They currently serve children in 14 states and are always expanding. Talk to your child’s school nurse to see if their school is eligible for a visit from this organization.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) allows families with low incomes who are not eligible for Medicaid to purchase affordable health insurance for their children. This insurance must include vision coverage. 
  • If you are a veteran or a spouse or dependent of one, you may be eligible for eye care coverage under the Veterans Affairs Vision Care plan. This includes full coverage for routine eye exams and preventive vision testing for conditions like glaucoma. 
  • Medicaid offers free eye exams for children in all states. Adult eye exams are only covered in some states. Ask your State Medicaid Agency whether your state is one of them.
  • Some Medicare Advantage plans include vision plans that cover the cost of eye exams. 

Glasses and Contacts

  • OneSight offers free eyeglasses to Americans who cannot afford them. Applications must be made through social services or a local non-profit association.
  • Eyes of Hope provides full coverage gift certificates for eyeglasses to people in need. To qualify, your family income must be less than double the federal poverty line and you must have no public or private vision insurance. Victims of disasters with no vision insurance coverage are also eligible for free eyeglasses regardless of income. 
  • New Eyes for the Needy offer vouchers for new prescription eyeglasses for Americans in need. Applications must be made through social services or a school nurse. 
  • Sight for Students offers free eyeglasses for children from low-income families. To be eligible, children must have a family income of less than twice the federal poverty line and no vision coverage. 
  • Students assessed by a Vision to Learn program who are found to need vision correction are also offered free eyeglasses through the program. 
  • Some plans offered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) cover the cost of eyeglasses. Review the details of your plan to see if your child’s eyeglasses are covered. 
  • The Lions Club also provides funding for prescription eyeglasses for eligible individuals. Contact them to discuss your needs. 
  • The Veterans Affairs Vision Care plan will also cover the cost of glasses under certain conditions, including if you have a service-related disability.
  • Some Medicare Advantage plans also include coverage for glasses and contacts. Check with your plan provider for more information. 

Eye Surgery

  • Mission Cataract USA is a network of eye surgeons who have banded together to offer free cataract surgeries for people in need on one day each year. Use their website to find a participating surgeon in your area and contact them to request their assistance.
  • Operation Sight is a program run by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery that offers free cataract surgeries to people in need. You can find out if you qualify by completing the organization’s online patient inquiry form. 
  • The American Glaucoma Society offers free glaucoma surgery for people with no insurance coverage who cannot pay for the procedures they need. Contact them to see if you are eligible for their assistance. 
  • Medicare covers cataract surgery that is done using traditional techniques or lasers. Medicare Advantage Plans may also offer additional coverage for eye surgery. 
  • The Lions Club funds free medically necessary eye surgeries for people who cannot afford them. Contact them to request assistance if you need it.

Additional Programs That May Help

  • If you are living on a low income, you can apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This program will provide you with a small monthly cash payment if you meet certain eligibility requirements. While this money is unlikely to cover major eye care expenses, it may be enough to help you afford smaller expenses like eye exams or glasses. 
  • Inexpensive prescription eyeglasses are available from many online retailers. For instance, you can purchase a pair from Coastal for as little as $21 including the cost of the lenses. Some of these retailers also offer low-cost online eye exams as well. 
  • Genentech Ophthalmology Access Solutions offers full reimbursement for certain eye health medications for patients who cannot afford them. You can review the list of eligible medications on their website. 
  • The HealthWell Foundation offers financial assistance for insured people who cannot cover the cost of their coinsurance, co-pays, and other health expenses. Contact them to see if they can help you with the cost of your eye care.
  • You may have access to a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Savings Account (FSA) through your employer. Both you and your employer contribute to these accounts. The money they contain may be used on eligible health expenses, including eye care. 
  • If you need major eye surgery or another expensive procedure, you may wish to consult the Medical Tourism Association. This international non-profit organization dedicated to assisting people get affordable medical care in countries where that care is more affordable. 

References

  1. Eye Exam Cost. (2022). CostHelper.

  2. Ophthalmology & Optometry. (2022). CostHelper.

  3. Get Help Paying For Eye Care. (May 2021). National Eye Institute.

  4. Your Sight: Vision Care Financial Assistance Information. (2022). Prevent Blindness.

  5. Stagnation in Vision Plan Fee Schedules. (August 2020). Health Policy Institute: American Optometric Association.

Last Updated April 4, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.