Free Eye Exams and Eyeglasses
Good vision is a precious gift. It's also a daily necessity. If you can't afford routine eye exams and prescription eyeglasses, a number of public and private organizations may be able to help you obtain a free eye exam and free eyeglasses.
If you need financial assistance to obtain eye care or eyewear, you might want to contact one of the following programs. Social workers and local community organizations also have information about programs that help people in financial need get the eye care and prescription eyewear they need.
Free Eye Exam for Infants
InfantSEE is a national public health program managed by the American Optometric Association (AOA) through its philanthropic and charitable organization, Optometry Cares - The AOA Foundation.
The InfantSEE program provides a one-time, free eye exam for infants.
The InfantSEE program provides a no-cost first eye assessment for infants within the child's first year of life, regardless of family income or insurance coverage.
The free eye exam is performed by an AOA member optometrist who donates his or her time in an effort to ensure that eye and vision care become a part of routine infant wellness care in the United States.
According to Optometry Cares - The AOA Foundation, InfantSEE is just the first step to ensuring healthy eyes and clear vision for children. Parents should schedule routine eye exams for children when their kids reach age 3, again before they begin school and every two years thereafter, unless otherwise directed by their eye doctor.
The InfantSEE program was developed in partnership with The Vision Care Institute, a Johnson & Johnson company, and launched in 2005. To learn more about InfantSEE and to find a participating optometrist, visit the InfantSEE website.
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Children's Eye Exams Covered by Medicaid
Medicaid is a jointly funded, federal-state public health program that is administered by the states. Medicaid provides health care coverage to certain low-income people and families who are U.S. citizens.
Qualifying for Medicaid may depend on several factors besides income, resources and age including whether you're pregnant, disabled or blind. Each state has unique eligibility rules and covered benefits.
In general, Medicaid coverage is available in every state for children in families living below the federal poverty level. The U.S. poverty level in 2014 is a gross yearly income of $19,790 for a family of three living in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia ($22,760 for residents of Hawaii and $24,740 for residents of Alaska).
The latest information about the current federal poverty guidelines for families of all sizes can be found at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.
Medicaid pays for a number of services for eligible children, including preventive care, screening and treatment of health conditions, physician and hospital visits, and vision and dental care.
To find out what services the Medicaid program in your state will cover, use a search engine such as Google. For example, by searching for "Medicaid California" you will find the Medi-Cal website. (Medi-Cal is the name of California's Medicaid program.)
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a state and federal partnership that provides low-cost health insurance coverage for children in families who earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford to purchase private health insurance coverage.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers eye exams for schoolchildren who are not eligible for Medicaid.
States have considerable flexibility to establish income eligibility rules for CHIP, but children enrolling in the program must be otherwise uninsured.
In general, children in families with annual incomes up to $49,100 (for a family of four) are likely to be eligible for coverage in 2015. (More information about eligibility can be found on the CHIP website.)
Preventive care must be provided at no cost to the family, but premiums and other cost-sharing may be required for other services, within certain limits. In most states, children enrolled in the program may be eligible for free eye exams.
To find out if your children are eligible for CHIP or Medicaid coverage, call 1-877 KIDS NOW (1-877-543-7669).
Free Eye Exams for Adults
VISION USA, coordinated by the Optometry Cares - The AOA Foundation, provides free eye exams to uninsured, low-income workers and their families. For more information about VISION USA, call 1-800-766-4466.
EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, provides free eye exams for qualifying seniors. Eligible individuals receive a comprehensive medical eye exam and up to one year of care for any disease diagnosed during the initial exam at no out-of-pocket cost.
The program facilitates eye care for U.S. citizens and legal residents who are without an ophthalmologist and who do not belong to an HMO or have eye care coverage through the Veterans Administration.
Volunteer ophthalmologists accept Medicare and/or other vision insurance reimbursement as payment in full. Patients without insurance receive care at no charge. To determine if you or a senior family member or friend qualifies for free eye exams and other services provided by this program, visit the EyeCare America website.
Lions Clubs International provides financial assistance to individuals for eye care through its local clubs. You can find a local Lions Club by using the "club locator" feature on the organization's website.
Eye Exams Covered by Medicare
Though Medicare does not provide free eye exams or free eyeglasses, Medicare-eligible people with special eye or general health problems do qualify for eye exam coverage.
People with diabetes can get a dilated eye exam to check for diabetic eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy. Your doctor decides how often you need this exam.
Medicare-eligible people who are at high risk for glaucoma, such as individuals with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma, can have an annual eye exam to check for glaucoma and receive Medicare coverage for this exam.
Patients must pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible. For more information, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit the Medicare website.
Sight for Students, a Vision Service Plan (VSP) program, provides eye free exams and free glasses to low-income, uninsured children. The program operates nationally through a network of community partners who identify children in need and VSP network eye doctors who provide the services.
VSP founded Sight for Students in 1997 and was one of the original commitment-makers to America's Promise, which strives to bring together organizations dedicated to helping America's youth.
For more information about Sight for Students, call 1-888-290-4964 or visit the Sight for Students website.
New Eyes is a non-profit, non-sectarian volunteer organization that purchases new eyeglasses for poor children and adults in the United States. The organization also recycles donated glasses for distribution to indigent people in developing nations worldwide.
Founded in 1932, New Eyes has provided free eyeglasses to more than 8 million people in the U.S. and around the world. The organization is based in Short Hills, New Jersey. For more information about New Eyes, call 1-973-376-4903 or visit the New Eyes website.
About the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 25 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include contact lenses, nutrition and preventive vision care. Connect with Dr. Heiting via Google+.
[Page updated March 2015]