Free and Low Cost Eye Care in the United States
There are almost 50 million Americans who cannot afford routine eye exams or prescription eye glasses. There are several resources all over the country that help provide vision care for people of all ages.
These exams are not only important for vision, but doctors are also checking for any abnormalities within the eye, such as disease or a type of refractive error. Infants, children, seniors, and diabetics are at the highest risk for visual impairments, which can lead to cognitive and neurological issues if untreated. Eye exams are important for overall health because they can also detect early signs of other conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. It’s important to check the eyes at every stage of life, therefore affordable access to eye doctors and prescription eyeglasses is a significant health concern.
Infants and Children:
This public health program is managed by Optometry Cares® – the AOA Foundation. InfantSEE is designed to ensure that vision care is essential in infant wellness and quality of life. Optometrists that participate provide infant eye exams for those 6 to 12 months as a no cost public service. Click here to learn more and locate a doctor in your area who can provide the free infant assessment.
Medicaid is based on state by state coverage for children that fall below the poverty level with little to no medical insurance, including vision care. For children under 21, eye exams, eyeglass frames, and eyeglass lenses are available through Medicaid. To find Medicaid coverage for vison and other health services you can Google search Medicaid and your state or get more information at http://www.benefits.gov/benefits/browse-by-category/category/MED .
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
CHIP provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, CHIP covers parents and pregnant women. Each state offers CHIP coverage, and works closely with its state Medicaid program. CHIP benefits are different in each state. But all states provide comprehensive coverage, including vision care. To apply for this program visit www.insurekidsnow.gov and select your state or call 1-877-543-7669. You can also Fill out an application through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
- One Sight Program
This global program reaches nine countries supporting vision for children and adults through eye exams and prescription eye glasses. One Sight establishes vision centers all over the world within each health care system. This is a volunteer organization determined by local need and in country partnership with government, charitable organizations, optometrists, health departments, and school districts. You can get access to this resource and learn more at https://onesight.org .
- Vision USA
AOA member optometrists donate their services to Americans in need of eye exams in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Those in need of an eye exam can find help through VISION USA by working with your social worker, case worker, or agency. Applications must be submitted online at www.aoa.org or by regular mail to Vision USA, 234 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141. If your state is not listed as eligible for this service, visit http://www.aoafoundation.org/vision-usa/vision-usa-state-run-programs/ to find a specific state run program.
Each state has their own Medicaid benefits, which include eye care for children and adults. Some states also provide help screening in treating glaucoma and covering some of the cost of cataract surgery. You can find out if you are eligible through your state’s Medicaid agency or visiting https://www.cms.gov/ .
Vision benefits are available through Medicare for those with cataracts, eye wear, glaucoma, and more. Medicare is available to those 65 and above or with a specific health condition who qualify. To learn more about Medicare vision benefits visit https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/eye-exams.html .
- Eye Care America
This public service program provides eye care through Ophthalmologists that volunteer at no cost to those that qualify. To learn more about the program visit http://aoa.org .
- Lions Club International
Local clubs in this organization can access financial assistance for eye care. Additionally, the organization has eye health programs and recycled eyeglasses initiatives. To learn how to apply for these services go to http://members.lionsclubs.org/EN/serve/sight/vision-screenings.php.
- State Government
You can always Google search state based information by typing the name of your state and Commission for the Blind, Division of Services for the Blind, or anything eye care related. These will take you to state government websites ending in .gov that will give you resources and can direct you to assistance in your area.
- Mission Cataract USA
This free community service provides free surgery to those with cataracts with no Medicare, Medicaid, third party insurance coverage, or other means to pay for surgery. To access this service, go to http://missioncataractusa.org and find a doctor and clinic that participates and fill out a contact form on the website.
- Patient Access Network
This network allows underinsured patients in poverty with various diseases get the medication and treatment they need by paying out of pocket costs. PAN also advocated for improved access and affordability. Diseases of the eye, such as macular degeneration, are included in the network. Apply Online (Click Here) or call 1-866-316-PANF (7263)
Free or discounted eyeglasses:
- Sight for Students
This is a charity that provides free vision exams and glasses to low-income, uninsured children in the nation under the age of 18. To receive assistance, go to http://www.sightforstudents.org/ and review the qualifications to apply and partners that assist in this project to get started.
- New Eyes for the Needy
This program purchases basic prescription glasses for people in financial need in the United States through a voucher program. The voucher can be obtained through applying though a welfare worker, school nurse, or social service agency. New Eyes also provides sourcing for free eye exams. To find resources for this program and to learn more visit http://www.new-eyes.org/.
Many of these organizations or programs, such as Medicaid, One Sight, and other state benefits provide vision care to people of all ages, not just what was categorized here. See additional sites above for recycled, discounted, or free eyeglasses from many of these programs.