I don't have health insurance, can I still visit the optometrist?
Are there ways to save at the optometrist?
Taking care of our eyes is an important part of looking after our overall health. And while a regular visit to the optometrist is usually covered by Medicare, the bills can quickly add up if we don’t get a clean bill of (eye) health – particularly for those without private health insurance. So, if that applies to you, what’s the alternative? And are there ways you can save money at the optometrist?
Luckily, there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help bring down your costs – without skimping on your eye health.
Seeing an optometrist without health insurance
Taking care of our eyesight begins with regular check-ups and, thankfully, this particular part of eye health is free for many of us. “If you are an Australian resident with eligible Medicare cover then there is no cost for the eye test,” confirms David Pitt, store manager at Sydney nib Eye Care Centre.
So how often do you need an eye test? Every two years is the recommendation from Optometry Australia, David explains. “Of course, if you notice any sudden changes or feel that your vision has altered in under two years, book a test to ensure your vision is being adequately managed.”
Oh, and for anyone living with specific medical conditions that can affect eyesight (such as diabetes), the frequency of eye tests will also differ. “This will be established by your optometrist as part of the treatment and monitoring plan for your general health,” says David.
Unfortunately, Medicare covers only one eye test every three years for people under 65 (and one per year for Australians 65 and older)1.
That potentially leaves people out of pocket – and without health insurance, the cost of additional appointments may add up.
It’s also important to keep in mind potential costs after your eye test – say, if you need glasses and contact lenses, which Medicare doesn’t cover, and any additional tests or treatments.
Seeing an optometrist with health insurance
Having private health insurance may help bring down or even eliminate some of these additional costs.
“Optical products are often subsidised or covered with specific optical benefits as part of an individual health fund/membership,” says David. “Once you are through any waiting periods, and dependent on the product being purchased, there may be no out-of-pocket expense for the optical item chosen (prescription glasses or contact lenses) or a minimal cost for the product of your choice.”
Of course, not all private health cover is equal and any expenses you might face at your optometrist appointment will depend on your provider and your chosen level of cover – which is why it’s important to know exactly which benefits are included in your plan before you walk into the optometrist’s office.
How to save at the optometrist
While having private health insurance is one simple way to help cut costs at the optometrist, it’s not the only one! Here are a few more tips on keeping more in your pocket while keeping your eyes in tip-top shape.
Ask upfront about tests and costs
Before your appointment, chat to your optometrist to find out exactly what you’re up for fees-wise. If they advise something beyond a standard eye test – for example, retinal imaging (to see the back of the eye), optical coherence tomography (a scan of the retina) or tests specific to contact-lens wearers – ask if these are essential and what additional costs are involved. We’re definitely not advising you to avoid any essential tests, but if you have no additional health risks, there might be the possibility of pressing pause on some tests once in a while if money is really tight. Speak to your optometrist about your options (and always put your health first).
Check your specs
Need new glasses? Frames can be exxy depending on the brand. “At nib Eye Care, we offer a range of products across single vision eyewear and contact lenses that provide 100% back for nib members2,” says David. But if you don’t have health insurance and the frames at your optometrist are out of your price range, ask for your prescription and shop around, including online, where there could be deals on complete pairs of glasses.
There are also government schemes available to people receiving Centrelink benefits or who hold some concession cards, which may give them access to a free complete pair of glasses every two years3
1Standard eye test only. Additional procedures and tests may acquire additional costs.
2100% back on complete single vision glasses: includes complete single vision lenses and frames from a select range only. The range depends on your level of health cover. Stock and brands are subject to availability and may vary from store to store. Contact lenses, prescription sunglasses, safety glasses, tinting, coating or hardening of lenses are excluded. Not available in conjunction with any other offer or discount, unless specified. 100% back on contact lenses: is limited to a select range of contact lenses and a minimum of 6 months’ supply. Select range available, or ask in-store. Must be purchased as one complete package.
Offers available to members of nib and health insurance brands underwritten by nib. You cannot pay the difference between the '100% back' range of glasses or contact lenses and another product. To claim 100% back you will need Extras cover, to have served optical waiting periods and to have sufficient optical annual limits remaining. Offer available to members of nib and health insurance brands underwritten by nib.
3Access to free or discounted glasses is dependent on your local scheme. Check your State Government website for more.
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David Pitt has been a familiar face with nib Eye Care for almost 10 years and spent several years across the Sydney CBD, Chatswood & Parramatta stores. Many people may recognise him from our corporate Vision Screening program. With an interest in fashion, David is perfectly suited to his leadership role and loves seeing people leave feeling great about themselves after choosing new frames, plus the advancement in lenses that complete the perfect pair of glasses. Every day with nib Eye Care is different because of the people he gets to meet. When not working, David enjoys life with music production, illustration and anything creative.