Just like regular dental and medical check-ups, eye exams are an important part of maintaining good overall health. But there can be some uncertainty around their cost that makes us hesitate about booking one.
To help keep your eyes in tip-top shape, we've put together a comprehensive guide to the cost of an eye exam in Canada. We've got you covered, whatever part of the beautiful land you call home.
Eye Exam Coverage and Cost per Province
The cost of an eye exam in Canada varies depending on two factors: where you live and how old you are.
Throughout our adult years, fluctuations in eyesight are usually minimal. However, children and older adults often experience fluctuations in their eyesight. In most areas, this means that they receive free annual eye exams.
For those not covered by the insurance program in their province, you can expect to pay $80-$300 out of pocket.
Over one-third of Canadians live in Ontario. They receive medical coverage through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). Does OHIP cover eye exams? Yes and no.
People under 19 or over 65 can receive one free eye test every year. Currently, under OHIP you can also receive a free eye exam if you have one or more of the following medical conditions:
- diabetes mellitus
- retinal disease
- visual field defects
- corneal disease
- recurrent uveitis
- optic pathway disease
If you are on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works program, you may also be eligible for additional eye care benefits. Adults between 19 and 65 may also be able to access a free eye test if they are referred by a doctor because of a specific medical concern.
BC residents are covered by the Medical Services Plan (MSP). This provides a free eye test for those aged 18 or under and over 65. Even if you are not in one of these age brackets, you are still covered for treatment for eye diseases and injuries under the MSP.
Alberta offers those under 19 and over 65 the following services each year:
- one free complete eye exam
- one partial exam
- one diagnostic procedure
Those with the medical needs outlined above for Ontario are also covered. All ages can access care for eye diseases and injuries.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Unlike most other provinces, there is currently no free eye exam coverage for residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. If you receive Income Support, you can request help to cover the cost of an eye test and glasses.
New Brunswick residents do not receive free eye exams at any age. The only exception is for children under 19 who come from low-income households. This is covered by the Healthy Smiles, Clear Vision program.
Manitoba offers a free, complete eye exam to residents aged under 19 and over 65 every two years. This also applies to those with the health conditions listed under Ontario.
All residents with a medical need are able to access a free eye exam in Nova Scotia. In line with many other provinces, those under 19 and over 65 may also benefit from a free eye test every two years.
Saskatchewan offers very comprehensive eye care coverage, the most generous in Canada.
Those under 18 can take advantage of a free comprehensive eye exam, one partial exam, and one follow-up exam every year. The key difference in Saskatchewan is that those over 18 are also entitled to a free eye test every year. There is also coverage for medical necessities.
Prince Edward Island
Currently, there is no provision for free eye exams for residents of Prince Edward Island.
Under the Québec Health Insurance Plan, eligible persons up to the age of 17, and over the age of 65 receive one free annual eye exam.
Why Are Exams Important?
Many people think their vision is just fine - until they get an eye exam. Once you're fitted with the correct prescription glasses or contact lenses, you suddenly realize just how much detail you were missing.
Checking your vision is just one aspect of an eye exam, though. Optometrists and ophthalmologists are trained to detect the signs of eye diseases in the early stages. By catching them early, there is a better chance of successful treatment that prevents vision loss.
What Conditions Can Eye Tests Diagnose?
When performing the eye exam, they will look for signs of diseases. These can include cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. All of these eye diseases are leading causes of blindness in adults.
Those with diabetes should have an eye test every year. If you have a family history or a higher risk of developing glaucoma, you should have an eye test every two years.
Children need to have regular eye exams, and these should start early. This can help to identify and treat conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye), a common cause of vision loss in children.
Who Performs An Exam?
Optometrists perform regular eye exams. They are not physicians but they have had special training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of eye and vision conditions.
An optometrist will prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They can also prescribe certain drugs and treatments for eye conditions. But if they discover more serious eye issues, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist.
An ophthalmologist is a physician who has had specialized training in diagnosing and treating eye diseases. They can also perform surgery if needed.
What Can I Expect At An Eye Exam?
At an eye exam, the optometrist will begin with a discussion of your general health and family history. Come to the appointment prepared to discuss any specific issues that you have been experiencing. Bring your current glasses and the names of any prescription medications you take.
Before your eye exam, it's good to not put too much strain on your eyes. Working at a computer for a long time before an exam is not ideal. Also, coffee can elevate blood pressure, so it might be best to hold off until after your exam.
What Equipment Will the Doctor Use?
The first piece of equipment the doctor will use is a tonometer. This measures the pressure in the eyeball. This is the 'air puff' machine. It can also be used to test for glaucoma.
Next, the phoropter is used—the machine the optometrist uses to determine the eyeglass numbers needed to correct your vision. You are usually asked to compare lenses and read lines of text while looking through the lenses in the machine. This is known as a Snellen Chart. Pay close attention! Accurate responses are needed to make the correct diagnosis.
Your eye doctor will also use an ophthalmoscope to examine inside the eye. This includes a small slight and a series of mirrors to help them get a clear view of the retina and look for any signs of deterioration. They may also use a retinal camera to take a more in-depth look at the retina.
Can You Do an Eye Exam Online?
Online eye exams are possible and have become more popular during the COVID pandemic. However, at best, they can only provide a vision test. They cannot check the health of your eyes. They can be great in an emergency when you need to know your prescription in a hurry. But they are not a substitute for an in-person eye exam.
Private Insurance Can Help With The Cost Of An Eye Exam
Many private health insurance plans can help with eye exam costs. Typically, they set a dollar figure they will cover for an eye test, usually once every two years. Some plans also pay out for glasses, contact lenses, and frames within a set budget.
Optometrists may recommend a course of vision therapy. This is prescribed for a range of conditions, including lazy eye (amblyopia), eye turns, and binocular vision. Most insurance companies do not cover this as standard. Look out for the term "orthoptic" when comparing vision insurance packages.
Insurdinary is one of Canada's top financial comparison platforms. We can help you to work through the jargon, and find the vision insurance coverage you need.
Is It Worth It to Get Vision Insurance?
That depends on your personal circumstances. If you need corrective lenses, then insurance could greatly reduce the out-of-pocket expenses involved in an eye exam. If you have a family history of eye problems, then it's good to get coverage.
Do you only need a regular eye exam to check your eye health and don't use corrective lenses? Compare the cost of the insurance with paying for an eye exam yourself.
You can rely on Insurdinary to help you make the right choice. Our specialist insurance team is experienced in helping Canadians to compare insurance policies based on their individual needs. Not all vision care plans offer the same level of coverage, so it's important to work with a specialist to get a plan tailored to your requirements.
The Bottom Line: Understanding the Cost of an Eye Exam in Canada
The cost of an eye exam in Canada is something every Canadian should plan for each year. Many young people and seniors receive coverage from their provincial health insurance. Others will need to plan insurance or cover the expense out of pocket.
Whichever applies to you, it's not worth taking a risk with your eye health. Regular eye exams keep eyes healthy, vision clear and crisp, and help to identify problems before they become serious.
At Insurdinary, we are here to help you get the vision care plan you need to cover all your family's vision care needs. We help you search through Canada's top insurance providers to get the best coverage. Contact us today to get the process started.