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How to find transportation to your next eye exam

Woman helping an older man into a van

If you need to see an eye doctor but you can’t drive yourself, you’ll need to clear up a few basic questions about medical appointment transportation: 

  • Which kind of eye doctor do you need to see?

  • What are your options for free transportation to medical appointments?

  • Does Medicare or Medicaid pay for transportation to doctor appointments?

  • Do eye doctors make home visits?  


Answering these questions is a big deal for people over age 60 who no longer have a car or driver’s license. Let’s face it: If you have low vision or can’t afford your own car, getting to the eye doctor can be pretty difficult. 

This article will help all of you. Let’s walk through the questions and answers: 

Which eye doctor to see: optometrist or ophthalmologist?

Before you line up medical transportation to an eye care office, make sure you’re seeing the right kind of doctor.

  • Optometrists have four years of training after college and hold a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They handle routine eye exams and diagnose eye problems like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) with advanced training in diseases of the eye and eye surgery. Ophthalmologists do everything optometrists do, plus they treat serious eye problems and repair them if possible.

A simple rule of thumb: An optometrist can diagnose your cataracts, but an ophthalmologist can surgically remove them. (More on All About Vision: How to choose an eye doctor

WHEN WAS YOUR LAST EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and make an appointment, then use this guide to find a ride.

Free transportation to medical appointments: What are my options?

Don’t overlook the obvious: Ask a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor first. Also, many churches and local non-profits offer free rides to older people. 

If those options don’t pan out, call your eye doctor’s office and ask if they know about any free transportation services. 

If you come up dry there, start scouting online for free local transportation services. Try searching terms like "free medical transportation." Because search engines localize their search results, you should get a list of free (or low-cost) options nearby. 

Recently, ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft started partnering with medical providers to offer free rides to doctor appointments. These services aren’t available everywhere and they have to be arranged through your doctor’s office. (A service called GoGoGrandparent can also help if you don’t have a smartphone). 

If you’re eligible for Medicaid, you may qualify for free rides to your eye doctor’s office. Call your local Medicaid office to find out for sure. Your local Department of Public Health or county Social Services Agency also may help you out. And don’t forget about Area Agencies on Aging services in your city.   

Will Medicare pay for rides to the doctor’s office?

If Medicare is your only health insurance provider, then you probably don’t have coverage for a basic visit to the eye doctor.

Medicare will pay for an ambulance to a medically necessary appointment if riding in another kind of vehicle is hazardous to your health, but that would be extremely rare for an everyday visit to the eye doctor. 

However, supplemental services like Medicare Advantage may cover transportation to your eye doctor appointments. Call your provider or visit their website to find out.   

SEE RELATED: Vision benefits of Medicare Advantage Plans (Medicare Part C)

Do eye doctors make home visits?

Starting in 2020, eye doctors in California will be able to make house calls. Whether any eye doctors take advantage of this change remains to be seen.   

Improvements in internet and mobile technology are also bringing more telehealth options, including in eye care, into people’s homes. In fact, FDA-approved online vision tests are already available for those looking to update a glasses prescription without leaving the house.

While the range of eye health tests would be limited, it’s perhaps only a matter of time until eye care telehealth options become more common. 

Other transportation options for eye doctor visits 

Here are a few more ways to get to your eye doctor visits:  

  • Public transportation. Buses, trains and subways are a good economical choice where available (and convenient!). Though they aren't free, many services offer senior discounts. Just give yourself plenty of time to figure out the schedules and how to make transfers.

  • Paratransit. These are special services for older people and those with disabilities. Local transit agencies usually administer paratransit services.

  • Taxicabs. Taxis tend to be expensive, but they may provide discounts for taking people to doctor’s visits.

  • Car services. If you can pony up the cash for a car service, you can get primo door-to-door service.

To find out more, check out AARP’s guide to senior transportation and AgingCare.com’s article on “Finding transportation services for seniors.”

Whatever you do, don’t neglect your eye care

Everybody’s vision gets worse with age, but there’s a lot you can do to protect your eyesight. An exam can find early symptoms of glaucoma or macular degeneration. If your vision is getting cloudy, you may need cataract surgery. 

Regular visits to your eye doctor are the best way to detect these problems early. If they're caught soon enough, it could save your vision.   

DO YOU NEED AN EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and make an appointment, then use this guide to find a ride.

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