Home Conditions

Caring for your child’s vision when you don’t have vision insurance

mother and daughter picking out new eyeglasses

Myopia eye care without vision insurance

Nearsightedness (myopia) is a common vision condition in children that can be diagnosed through a basic eye exam and often managed with prescription eyeglasses and/or contact lenses. Unlike some major eye diseases, myopia is not a condition that requires extensive monitoring outside of an annual eye exam.

But a child who has nearsightedness does need to receive proper care and corrective lenses in order to see clearly. If not, he may experience headaches, blurred vision, eye strain and other forms of discomfort. His academic performance may also be affected if he can’t see the board or other classroom objects clearly.

Fortunately, both eye exams and prescription eyewear are available with or without vision insurance. If you do not have vision insurance and you suspect your child may be nearsighted, here’s what you can do:

Find free and low-cost eye exams near you

Depending on your income level and other factors, your child may be eligible for a free or low-cost eye exam (and/or eyewear) from one of the following organizations or programs:

To find out more about these programs, check out their websites. You can also ask your child’s school nurse if they have information about local vision programs.

Other options for lower-cost exams

Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and other retailers have optical departments that provide eye exams at a more affordable price than what you might see at a private eye care practice. This is a great option for those who are uninsured but need basic eye exams and care. Plus, many have prescription eyeglasses available for purchase in-store.

Just how low-cost are these exams? A survey of 100 optical centers across the country showed that basic exams at Sam’s Club range between $50 and $100 without insurance, averaging at $61 per exam. The average cost of an exam at a private practice was about $128 without insurance.  

It’s important to note that children’s eye exams typically check: 

  • Visual acuity (sharpness of vision) 

  • How the eyes move and work together as a team

  • For refractive errors (such as nearsightedness) and eye health problems

  • For common vision problems in children, including amblyopia, strabismus, convergence insufficiency, focusing problems and color blindness 

If a doctor recognizes signs of any serious problems in your child’s vision, they may refer you to a specialist for the appropriate care.

If your child’s only vision issue is their nearsightedness, a low-cost eye exam once a year may be all they need. But regardless of whether you have insurance, you should always take your child’s vision health seriously.

Take advantage of online eyewear retailers

Eyeglass frames and lenses can get expensive, even at Sam’s Club and similar “inexpensive” optical centers.

Many online retailers offer prescription eyeglasses at very affordable prices. Sites such as EyeBuyDirect have large selections of children’s (and adult) glasses so your child can find their perfect style, color and fit while you pay a fraction of the price you might pay at an eyewear boutique.

Keep in mind that you will need a current prescription to order glasses online. To save money, some people choose to get a low-cost eye exam at a place such as Sam’s Club or Costco and use the prescription they received there to order glasses elsewhere.

See if you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP

Low-income families may be eligible for Medicaid coverage for their kids’ eyesight and other needs. The federal program is administered by each state and covers health care such as vision and dental care, preventive care, hospital and physician visits, and health screenings. 

Eligibility varies from state to state, so be sure to contact your state’s Medicaid office if you need more information.

Another program to consider if you and your child are uninsured is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

CHIP is a program that provides health care for children in uninsured, low-income families that do not meet Medicaid eligibility requirements. CHIP covers eye exams and eye care for children.

Consider a vision insurance plan for your child

If your household income makes you ineligible for a federal program, you can still get vision coverage for your child in other ways. And it’s possible to get coverage only for your child if you are not seeking any for yourself.

Some companies that offer private vision insurance for you or your child include:

These are great options if your child has serious vision problems that require more care than just a regular eye exam once a year. Each provider has varying benefits, so be sure to do some independent research before selecting coverage for your child’s vision.

Understand vision screenings are not the same as eye exams

Schools offer free vision screenings for children on a regular basis that can be a helpful tool in identifying major vision impairments. However, they do not provide enough data or insight to determine whether a child needs glasses.  

It’s important to understand that screenings are not a substitute for comprehensive eye exams. Screenings are rarely performed by eye doctors, and it’s easy for common issues to be missed (sometimes they aren’t actually checked for).

In order to get your child the help she needs for nearsightedness (or any other vision problems), it’s important to book a comprehensive eye exam with an eye care doctor.

Also, note that a person’s eyes continue to develop through their 20s. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a child’s vision to change year to year as their eyes mature. That being said, getting your child’s eyes checked regularly is very important, no matter where you do so.

READ NEXT: What does the average eye exam cost without insurance?

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). HealthCare.gov. Accessed December 2021.

Get help paying for eye care. National Eye Institute. May 2021. 

Nearsightedness (Myopia). C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. August 2020.

Find Eye Doctor

Schedule an exam

Find Eye Doctor