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How Much Does an Eye Exam Cost?

Sept. 9, 2016
Health, Medical Costs
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Even if you have 20/20 vision, you should have your eyes checked regularly — every one to two years, according to the American Optometric Association.

A comprehensive eye exam determines the physical health of your eyes. That’s separate from a vision exam, though they are often done in the same visit. An eye exam is performed by either a clinician called an optometrist or a medical doctor called an ophthalmologist, and can find problems before they become severe, potentially saving your vision.

Eye exams are not the most expensive medical services, but you’ll still want a good idea of cost going in. Checking eye exam prices ahead of time puts you ahead of the game, and if you’re wondering whether your eye exam bill is fair, we can help with that. Here’s what you need to know about the cost of an eye exam.

Wide range of prices

Just like the rest of the health care world, ophthalmologists can charge whatever they see fit for their services. In some cases, that’s as low as $50 for an eye exam; in others, it’s $300 or more. In general, people in large metropolitan areas, especially those on the coasts, can expect to pay more for medical services than those farther inland.

FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization that collects health care cost data, has provided NerdWallet with estimates for eye and vision exam charges. Your first eye exam with any eye doctor will likely cost more than visits once you are an established patient. You’ll pay an additional fee for an exam to check your vision.

Eye exam cost national average prices
Source: FAIR Health
Initial patient exam$200
Established patient exam$128
Refractive vision test$46

National averages give you a good idea of a fair price, but they don’t tell you what is too much to pay. Even if you live in a coastal city, aim to pay less than what the top 20% most expensive providers charge, or the 80th percentile.

80% of eye exams are priced at or below these rates
Source: FAIR Health
Initial patient exam$250
Established patient exam$155
Refractive vision test$60

To get a better idea of costs in your area, visit FAIR Health’s cost lookup tool and find regional eye exam costs.

Vision insurance may reduce costs

Many employers offer vision insurance, which is separate from health insurance. Most health insurance companies cover medical care for the eyes if problems are found in the initial eye exam. If you have vision insurance, it’s a safe bet your plan will cover part or all of your eye exams.

If you don’t have vision insurance, you can get your own individual plan for $10 to $25 per month; keep in mind that most vision plans require at least a 12-month commitment upfront. For the year, that will run you anywhere from $120 to $300, so it’s a good idea to compare plans and prices.

Considering that cost, not everybody needs vision insurance. If you’re single, have 20/20 vision and need an eye exam only every two years to make sure your eyes are healthy, you’ll find it probably costs less to just pay for the exam when it’s time. On the other hand, people over 60 are at higher risk for vision loss, and children need exams every year, so seniors and families are likely to save money by opting for vision insurance.

If you meet certain low-income requirements, you may qualify for a free eye exam from Vision USA; call 800-766-4466 to find out more.

Whether it’s free or not, an eye exam today can help prevent vision loss down the road, so don’t procrastinate because of cost.

Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @LacieWrites.