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What does the average eye exam cost without insurance?

Woman looking at an eye chart and holding up a piggy bank wondering how much the eye exam cost

Many things can affect the cost of your eye exam. But who wants to discover that only after they get the bill?

We called eye doctors in all 50 states and asked them what they charge for a standard check-up, before insurance, and which services are included. The results might surprise you.

The average price of a standard eye exam — $95 — is good to know. But we also learned that individual eye exam costs varied by as much as $200 across the country — despite being the same exam. This surprised even us.

How can one office charge $50, while another charges $250?

Let’s find out.

What kind of eye exam?

A comprehensive eye exam. This is usually what people think of when they think of an eye exam.

A comprehensive eye exam serves two general purposes: to examine eye health and update an eyeglass prescription. Contact-wearers will also need a contact lens fitting during the exam, which is an additional charge.

A basic eye exam usually includes procedures like refraction, retinoscopy, an eye movement test, color blind test, slit lamp exam, visual field test and a “puff of air” test for glaucoma. An eye doctor can choose to add or skip certain procedures, depending on your age, risk factors and when you had your last exam.

Services like pupil dilation or retinal imaging may also be recommended, but they often cost extra. We’ll get to those a little later on.

These prices reflect the “self-pay” cost for a new patient. If a new-patient or self-pay discount was offered, we factored it into the price.

How we categorized optical practices

We talked to 100 optical stores and offices across the country. They were chosen randomly but evenly throughout three main categories:

1. Type of business

We checked prices at three different kinds of optical locations:

Private offices

  • A locally owned optometrist office that isn’t affiliated with an external store or brand. There were split between single-doctor offices and group practices with two or more doctors.

Vision centers

  • Optometrists that practice inside or next to a big-box retail store. Most are still independent optometrists, but operate as the “official” doctor for that individual store. Think Walmart Vision Center, Target Optical or JCPenney Optical.

Retail centers

  • National or regional chains that specialize in eye exams and eyeglass sales. Among others, these locations include LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Visionworks. Discount chains like America’s Best and Stanton Optical are also included.

2. Region

Locations in six different U.S. regions were surveyed equally:

  • Northwest

  • West

  • Southwest

  • Midwest

  • Northeast

  • Southeast

3. City size

We split all 100 cities into two categories: big and small. A “big” city was classified as a major U.S. city, a major city suburb or any city with a population over 250,000. A city with less than that was technically classified as “small,” although the majority had populations between 1,000 and 50,000.

The Results

Check out this handy, illustrated summary of our findings!

><p>Check out this handy, illustrated summary of our findings!</p>

Check out this handy, illustrated summary of our findings!

Vision center and retail locations were significantly less expensive than private locations, with national averages of $77 and $80 respectively. Of all vision centers surveyed, none charged more than $100 for an eye exam. Retail stores were more varied, quoting between $45 and $150.

While we factored in upfront, no-purchase-required discounts, some retail locations offered other ways to reduce the cost of an exam. This usually meant “bundling” an exam with one or two sets of glasses from a certain selection of frames, for a slightly higher total charge.

Private offices averaged notably higher exam charges than their counterparts. The average exam came in at $128 — at least 60% higher than vision centers and retail.

Big cities and their metro areas ($93 average) narrowly beat out smaller cities ($97 average), by a $4 margin. We’ll call that a statistical tie.

Cheaper by the region

Eye exams in the middle and southern parts of the country were priced lower overall. A comprehensive eye exam in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest all averaged $90 or less.

The Midwest, our most affordable region, boasted the cheapest individual exam at $39, with dilation included, at a vision center location. On average, an exam in the Midwest will only set you back $78.

Pricier places

Eye exam prices inched up in the Northeast and rose sharply in West and Northwest.

An average exam in the Northwest was the most expensive at $112 — a 44% increase over the cut-rate Midwestern average. The average exam in the West was a close runner-up at $110.

Along with the highest average, the Northwest was also home to the highest-priced individual exam: $240 at a private practice.

While city size didn’t have much of an impact on average prices, private offices in particular were pricier in dense areas with sky-high real estate markets, like San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

If you live in one of those areas, this probably comes as no surprise!

And check out an illustrated summary of our findings in our handy infographic. Feel free to print it out or just take a look for a visual explanation of eye exam costs across the U.S.

Other factors that affected price

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options and terminology surrounding such a seemingly simple check off the to-do list. Buzzwords like refraction, dilation and retinography can catch you off guard, wondering how it all factors into the final price.

We tracked the lowest amount of money required to receive a comprehensive eye exam at each location. Some locations calculated this in different ways. These factors included:

Dilation and retinal imaging

Both of these in-office procedures allow a doctor to check the health of your retina, in the back of each eye. They can be useful for detecting problems at any age, but are most often recommended for patients over 60 or patients with certain illnesses and risk factors.

Dilation involves dilating the pupils with special eye drops, while retinal imaging takes a wide-angle photo of the retina without dilating. A separate dilation procedure isn’t needed if retinal imaging is done, and vice versa.

Most locations included dilation in the eye exam fee (72%), versus charging a separate fee (28%).

When billed separately, the average price of dilation was $24.

Oddly enough, the exact opposite was true for retinal imaging. It was more common to charge an additional fee for retinal imaging (72%) than to include it in the cost of the exam (28%). The average fee for retinal imaging was $33 when billed separately.

Be sure to call ahead before your next exam and ask how dilation or retinal imaging factors into the overall exam price — especially if you’re confident that you will or will not need it.

Tip: If you have medical insurance and are considering retinal imaging, check with your insurance provider first as the procedure may be covered.

Self-pay, new patients and return patients

Staff at a handful of private and retail locations told us about discounts for new patients or “cash” customers without vision insurance (self-pay). A few mentioned online coupons that could be available.

Any simple discounts were factored into our eye exam price when available. Discounts weren’t available from any of the vision centers we contacted.

Like medical doctors’ offices, a lot of private optometrists charge less for established return patients. Retail and vision centers tend to stick to the same charge whether you’re a new or recurring patient.

If you’re considering a privately owned office, it’s important to factor in the potential for lower exam costs in the future.

What we learned

Our survey was not exactly scientific, but the results were clear: The type of vision store (or office) and its geographic location do make a difference in how much you will likely pay for your next routine eye exam.

On average, the regional results tended to match higher costs of living around the country. A 2018 Pew study showed that money generally wasn’t worth as much along the West Coast and in the Northeast U.S., where our three most expensive regions were.

Higher cost of living in big cities, however, did not seem to have much of an impact on average exam prices.

While private optometrists charged significantly more on average, they’re more likely to charge less if you come back a second time. If you prefer the care of a locally owned and operated establishment, there’s certainly value in that.

Of course, there’s also something to be said for hunting down the lowest price in town. Only you can weigh the factors and decide which eye doctor will get your business.

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