Eye examination without vision insurance.
January 4, 2013 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I don't have vision insurance anymore. I would like to get my eyes examined anyway. I have a few questions about how this works.

Every other job I've had has provided vision insurance, but not my current one. As such, I haven't had my eyes examined for about two years. It's time to re-order contacts, and I figure I should make sure my prescription is up to date before I do it.

So how does getting your eyes examined without insurance work? Basically, how much will it cost, without insurance, to go to an optometrist? Does it vary a lot? Do I need to shop around? I know how much my fancy-astigmatism-contacts cost, but how much should it cost me to get new glasses?

Also, if anyone has any recommendations for an optometrist in NYC, that would be helpful too.

(And before anyone recommends this, I DO have health insurance and have looked into going to an ophthalmologist instead, but my insurance only covers an ophthalmologist for eye diseases, not for vision-correcting. Dammit.)
posted by millipede to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure of the cost of the optometrist visit, but you can save hundreds of dollars getting your glasses online. I've used Zenni Optical loads of times and the glasses are great.
posted by something something at 7:03 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I see an optometrist on the north shore of Long Island for about $120, my six pairs of monthly contacts are another $110. I am lazy, his office ships to me, getting contacts elsewhere online is likely cheaper. This is a private office, not a chain.
posted by kellyblah at 7:05 AM on January 4, 2013

You just pay cash to the eye doctor. Give them your credit card or write a check. Perfectly normal.

As for prices, you have to shop around. Warby Parker has pretty good prices for glasses.
posted by dfriedman at 7:06 AM on January 4, 2013

I've had a lot of good experiences going to the optometrists associated with Costco locations. You don't have to be a member to get checked there, but you do to order glasses. I actually cancelled my vision insurance because it cost me more overall than getting stuff from Costco or zenni.
posted by brilliantine at 7:13 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I go to Americas Best and they have a card you can get for maybe $50 that gives you 5 years of free exams and 10% off contacts and glasses (IIRC). I've been going to them for 15 years and have generally been satisfied.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:14 AM on January 4, 2013

Costco has in-store optometrists (at least in the store near me). (Audiologists, too!) Apart from needing a Costco card to get in, it's not much different from a barber: make an appointment (optional), go in, get checked, pay. And it's OK to ask how much before you get started.
posted by spacewrench at 7:15 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I had no insurance I paid approx. $90-$110 for an exam (based on if I was getting a student discount or not) and I bought my glasses online via EyeBuyDirect. I've heard lots of good things about Zenni Optical as well but they seem to think my prescription isn't humanly possible.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:15 AM on January 4, 2013

When I switched to ordering my son's contacts online, I would just pay cash at America's Best for an annual contact exam, which is $70 if you don't get any add-ons like glaucoma screening or whatever, or for $99 you can join their "club" and get 3 years of exams and discounts if you purchase contacts through them. Doesn't look like they have any locations in NYC, though.
posted by drlith at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2013

It is worth calling around to different optometrists because they do charge different amounts. It is very common to self pay for an exam. Make sure you ask about an exam for contacts since it might be different. I paid $60 at a regional chain and $100 at the student doctor optometrist clinic our local medical school has. The $100 exam was extremely exhaustive, the $60 took about 10 minutes. Ask if they will dilate your pupils, which is part of a more extensive exam.

The GlassyEyes blog is a good resource for buying glasses online and they keep a running tab on coupons, deals, etc from the big 3 or 4 online shops. He also gives a good explanation of how the process works. If you are going to buy online make sure you get your pupillary distance at your eye exam since this is necessary to buy glasses but not typically included in your prescription.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2013

Many optometrists have reduced exam fees for non-insured patients. I think my optometrist charges $100. They don't discount the actual glasses or contacts they sell.

Get the prescription and order lenses online.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:21 AM on January 4, 2013

I have never had vision insurance. Your local optometrist takes credit cards. So do full-scale doctor's offices. It will cost $50-$100, and more for contacts, and more at a opthamologist's office than an optometrist's.

Glasses vary by optician. I went to a couple optician to quote their costs on the lenses and went with the best deal. Sometimes you can get a discount by going to the optician directly associated with the optometrist. But ask around first to compare, since sometimes the optician bumps up the prices before hand so that the "discount" isn't significant.
posted by deanc at 7:22 AM on January 4, 2013

If you decide to go the online route, while you're getting your exam, be sure to ask for your pupillary distance before you leave.
posted by deanc at 7:23 AM on January 4, 2013

Yup, my experience with paying for my own optometrist exam is similar to those above; it's about $100 at an independent place and cheaper at a chain.

If you go with a chain, it's very important to remember to ask for a hard copy of your prescription before you pay and leave. This is your legal right if you're paying for an exam, and the reason that many of the chains like America's Best offer such cheap exams is that they count on you buying glasses or contacts through them in order to make up for the loss they take on the exam. Some (many?) of them will "help" this process along by forgetting to give you a physical copy of your prescription, and if you don't ask for it before you leave, they don't have to give it to you when you return later or call back asking for it.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:23 AM on January 4, 2013

Best answer: LivingSocial seems to very regularly have deals for eye exams (often a combo of a very discounted eye exam + a couple hundred dollars off glasses). I see them from places all around NYC, so if you can wait for the right deal, you should be able to save a lot. I think the most recent one I saw was $35 for the exam.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:24 AM on January 4, 2013

Best answer: I'm not sure about NYC, but in the DC metro area, Groupon, Living Social and Amazon Local are always sending me special discount offers from local optometrists. The fine print on most of them reads "cannot be combined with any insurance" so they are geared towards those without vision insurance.

On preview: what three_red_balloons said.
posted by invisible ink at 7:25 AM on January 4, 2013

Response by poster: You guys, I live in NYC. Costco is not a thing.
posted by millipede at 7:28 AM on January 4, 2013

My health insurance covers a vision check as part of the yearly wellness checkup, and they just run it through my health insurance company as such. Check your regular plan to see if that's an option, and if it is, talk to your optometrists office.
posted by deezil at 7:29 AM on January 4, 2013

You guys, I live in NYC. Costco is not a thing.

Yes, in fact, it is a thing..
posted by deanc at 7:31 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ deannc, woah, I stand corrected. (I'm still not going there though, because becoming a member is not something I want to do).
posted by millipede at 7:35 AM on January 4, 2013

Just throwing in another recommendation for getting your glasses online once you get your prescription (making sure it includes your pupillary distance too.) I've been happy with glasses I ordered from 39dollarglasses.com and Zenni Optical. One company has a near-total monopoly on the name-brand frames sold by most brick and mortar optometerists, which is why they're so preposterously expensive.
posted by usonian at 7:52 AM on January 4, 2013

2nding iminurmefi , chains will run a lot of specials on exams assuming they can make money selling you contacts and eyeglasses but you can still just get your prescription and pick up your eyewear elsewhere. Call around and ask how much exams cost, I found in my area it varied a ton, some places wanted $200 for a contact exam but I ended up getting it at a chain for $50 on special.

And like deanc said, ask for your pupillary distance, they don't necessarily write it on the prescriptions and you need it for glasses.
posted by ghharr at 8:11 AM on January 4, 2013

I called around to various optometrists and big box stores (Walmart, Target, Costco) and Costco had the lowest price for a contact lens exam - no membership was required.
posted by exhilaration at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2013

I went to the NYC Costco for my exam and I highly reccomend it. He gave a very thorough exam. I told him my intentions to order online and he gave me tips and pointed out the info needed.
posted by Sophont at 8:31 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You'd need to call and ask how much an appointment is (I've been lucky enough to have vision insurance whenever I needed to see him), but for fellow NYC dwellers that work/live/commute anywhere near the Financial District, I can very heartily recommend Dr. Jacob Nachum for the excellent care of any and all eyeballs. He's outstanding.

Also - nthing the buy-online suggestions, I ran into another one to peruse just the other day: eyebuydirect
posted by involution at 8:32 AM on January 4, 2013

I don't know how much an eye exam costs, but if you have anything but the most basic correction (sounds like you don't), glasses at an optical shop are going to run you like $400-$700. The eyeglasses market is a total racket. There are some online shops like Coastal and Warby Parker that are way cheaper, but it's more of a hassle. Actually WP has a showroom in NYC which is pretty cool, takes the hassle out of having them ship you the samples. Last time I got glasses I went to America's Best - my eyes were too bad to qualify for the "2 pairs for $69" promo, but I think I got two pairs for $400 (I got sunglasses for one) which was pretty good in my book.
posted by radioamy at 8:52 AM on January 4, 2013

You don't have to be a Costco member for the exam. Full stop. You just make an appointment and they'll let you walk past the person checking membership cards right into to the optometrist office. (They're at the front of the store for this reason.) I've been in three states, and I just called the Costco in Brooklyn to confirm for you. As said above, an exam is generally $100–150 depending on what you have done.

I recently had an eye exam done at a fairly fancy place (not Costco) where they screened my eyes for cancer/diabetes (or...something, not sure) and it was the most expensive exam I've ever had done, but it was still only $153. Do you have an HSA? That's what I use to pay for my eye exams to save a little money.

I've had excellent experiences with glasses from Zenni Optical, mentioned above, including several $7 pairs (includes the lenses AND frames, beat that price!) that are still going strong four years running. I have a very strong prescription and find the lenses to be delightfully thin, which was my main concern after paying $500+ for glasses my whole life. Since you wear contacts, I'm guessing you won't be wearing the glasses full time, like me—I wear mine once or twice a week for the whole day, but the other times are just at night or when I first wake up, and I stash glasses in the car and my purse just in case a contact rips, so cheap really does the job for me.
posted by thesocietyfor at 9:33 AM on January 4, 2013

For cheap frames (my insurance sucks), I go to Fabulous Fanny's in the East Village. For cheap lenses (my insurance sucks), I have in the past gone to Sol Moscot on 6th Ave ($75 for basic lenses) and Lenscrafters on the UWS.
posted by zvs at 10:07 AM on January 4, 2013

Are you sure you don't have vision coverage? I do not have vision insurance, but an appointment with an opthamologist is considered a specialist visit under my health insurance. Then I just paid the co-pay and ordered my contacts from 1-800-contacts. Even with insurance, glasses cost me a small fortune, thus I'm still wearing mine from 8 years ago.
posted by hrj at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2013

Response by poster: I'm sure I don't have vision coverage (read parenthetical above). I found a groupon for a small highly-yelp-rated optometrist, so now this is solved.
posted by millipede at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2013

which is $70 if you don't get any add-ons like glaucoma screening or whatever

Since glaucoma does not just happen to old people, is degenerative and is incurable -- treatment can only preserve remaining vision -- I wouldn't do that, especially were I black. Get the glaucoma test. It's cheaper than going blind.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:32 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Call around. In California, Lenscrafters typically works out under $200, usually around $75-$120 if you are only seeking imaging, an exam, and a prescription for glasses. Site for Sore Eyes works out sometimes less than a $100. I'm not sure if price differences are due to different franchises, or if prices go up frequently-- I only get checked once per year. Maybe I'm unlucky, but I've found that Site For Sore Eyes has really variable-quality service.

They are legally required to provide you with a good-faith exam and a prescription. They are also required to provide your PD or pupillary distance, which they generally won't unless you ask. Both shops will provide you with plenty of time to shop their frames, but you can ignore that and tell them you've got an urgent dinner date after the exam and this will keep the upselling to a minimum. I have had good experiences with Zenni Optical, 39dollarglasses.com (which does prism correction, which Zenni won't) and the free deal that was floating around on facebook from Coastal.com (I don't care about designer labels, so I wouldn't pay full price from Coastal.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:22 PM on January 4, 2013

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