Eye Care for Seniors: 4 Smart Ways to Save

You don’t need to rely on your Medicare supplement or private insurance plan. Here are some better ways to save on eye care.

Person trying on glasses

Whether you depend on corrective lenses every waking hour or only wear them to read or drive, you’ve probably noticed this: It’s hard to fully fund eye care and eyewear from petty cash.

In fact, one in 10 people between the ages of 50 and 80—including those with vision problems—put off getting their regular eye exams and updating eyeglasses or contact lens prescriptions. Twenty-five percent of those who put it off were concerned about the cost, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.

One major reason: Medicare limits.

Medicare Part B (often called Original Medicare) covers:

One thing Medicare does not pay for is eyeglasses—unless it’s after cataract surgery.

That poses a significant financial burden for some older adults, says Joshua Ehrlich, M.D., a glaucoma specialist, researcher, and health policy expert at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor.

Eye exams also aren’t covered under Medicare Part B, unless you have diabetes or need tests and treatments for eye diseases like glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration.

“The cost of vision insurance as a supplement to Medicare can be high,” Dr. Ehrlich says, “but for those who need glasses or contact lenses, weighing the cost of vision insurance against the out-of-pocket cost of glasses may be helpful to make the right financial situation for their individual situation.”

Has it been a while since your last eye exam? Now’s the time to book an appointment!

The Risks of Skimping on Eye Care

As you get older, changes to your vision happen more often, putting your safety at risk if you don’t take steps to address the problems.

Your ability to drive, see in the dark, and avoid falls could be compromised. Even your social life pays a price if you can’t see well, says Dr. Ehrlich, explaining that older people with uncorrected vision problems are likely to stay at home more.

Regular eye exams become even more important after age 60, when your risk increases for some serious but treatable eye diseases, including:

  • Cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s lens)
  • Age-related macular degeneration (damage to the central part of the retina that results in blurry vision or blank spots in your field of vision)

The National Institute on Aging recommends annual eye exams for everyone over age 60, and it encourages seeing your eye doctor if you notice any changes to your sight between those yearly checkups.

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'Tis the season to spend your FSA $

Now’s the perfect time to book an eye exam, shop for new glasses, or stock up on contact lenses.  

Smart Ways to Save On Eye Care

Nonetheless, there are ways to save money and stay on top of your eye health—without even touching your Medicare B or supplemental vision insurance.

“It’s a matter of being a smarter shopper,” says Jill Schlesinger, a personal finance expert and CBS News business analyst. Schlesinger also hosts the syndicated radio show "Jill on Money" and is the author of The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money.

“Everyone wonders, ‘Why am I paying so much for glasses?’ but they don’t realize how much preventative eye care can save you [in terms of] money and heartache down the line,” she says.

Here are four of the smartest ways to save.

1. For Regular Eye Exams, Skip Insurance

Yearly eye checks are your first line of defense to prevent many of the age-related eye diseases mentioned above. Caught early enough, eye problems can often be reversed, stalled, or more easily managed.

America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses accepts several insurance plans. But many shoppers find that our everyday low prices are often better deals than what they’d pay through their insurance plan, says Mike Vaughan, retail operations manager at National Vision, Inc.

“Our everyday deals are meant for folks who don’t have coverage so they can still afford to take care of their family’s vision,” says Vaughan.

So even if you don’t use your vision insurance, you can take advantage of offers such as:

  • Free eye exams. When you buy any two pairs of eyeglasses, the cost of your regular eye exam is on us.
  • The Eyecare Club. “The Eyecare Club gives you two comprehensive exams a year for three years and 10% discounts on all products in the store, whether it’s contacts or glasses, cleaners, or cases,” says Vaughan.

Ask your America’s Best associate to help you compare the value of your insurance plan against our everyday offers.

2. Shop for Good Deals

Need bifocals, progressive lensesor specialty lens coatings? You can protect your investment by adding:

  • UV protection
  • Scratch resistance
  • Tinting
  • One-year Product Protection Plan

An anti-reflective coating can also be added to your lenses to help make night-time driving easier, or if an astigmatism or existing cataracts make you especially sensitive to glare.

Contact lens exams at America’s Best are also affordable. But for just a few dollars more you can join the Eyecare Club. Being a member affords you three years of eye exams (up to two per year), plus a 10% discount on contact lenses, glasses, and accessories. California residents click here.

Learn more about the different America’s Best offers here.

3. Reach Out to a Nonprofit

Senior citizens who live on a fixed income with no private health insurance may qualify for a free medical eye exam to screen for common eye diseases through the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeCare America Seniors Program.

They will look for signs of glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and more. Eyeglasses are not included.

Treatment and ongoing care may also be provided to those diagnosed with an eye disease. There are certain income restrictions and eligibility requirements. Call 877-887-6327 to find resources near you.

4. Check Your VA Benefits

Veterans Affairs (VA) provides eye care services to veterans with any service-related disability. They’ll also cover the vision needs of a wide range of veterans, including those whose vision has been impacted as a result of another disease that they’re being treated for by the VA. Find your nearest VA facility here.

In addition, America’s Best extends a 10% discount year-round to members of the military. And in May, the discount is 15%. All you have to do is show an associate your military ID card.

Bottom line: Don’t skimp on eye care, says Schlesinger: “If you take the same time to research your vision care options as you do to research a restaurant, you will definitely save some bucks.”