There are many factors that can impact the cost of an eye exam. Who wants to find out that is all they pay for their eye exam?
We reached out to eye doctors across the 50 states to find out what their fees were for a basic check-up. You might be surprised at the results.
It is important to know that the average cost of an eye exam is $95 We also discovered that individual eye exams can cost as much as $200 in different parts of the country, despite the fact that they are the same exam. This was a surprise to even us.
How is it possible for one office to charge $50 and another $250?
Let’s see what happens.
What type of eye exam is it?
Comprehensive eye exams. This is what most people associate with an eye exam.
An eye exam is done to check the eye health and to update the prescription. Additional charges will be charged for contact-wearers who require a fitting of their lenses during the exam.
Refraction, retinoscopy and color blind tests are all part of a basic eye exam. Depending on your age, risk factors, and the date of your last exam, an eye doctor may add or remove certain procedures.
Recommendations for services like pupil dilation and retinal imaging might also be made, but these often come at a higher price. These will be covered in more detail later.
These prices reflect the cost of a new patient who is self-pay. We included any self-pay or new-patient discounts in the price.
How we classified optical practices
We spoke to 100 optical shops and offices in the country. They were randomly selected, but equally distributed across three main categories.
1. Type of business
We compared prices at three types of optical locations.
- Locally owned optometrist office, not affiliated with any external brand or store. They were divided between offices with one doctor and groups that have two or more doctors.
- Optometrists who practice in or near a large-box retail shop. While many optometrists are independent, they serve as the official doctor for each store. Think Walmart Vision Center or Target Optical, or JCPenney Optical.
- There are many national and regional chains that offer eye exams and sell eyeglasses. These locations include LensCrafters and Pearle Vision, as well as Visionworks. These locations also include discount chains such as Stanton Optical and America’s Best.
Six different U.S. regions were equally surveyed:
3. City Size
All 100 cities were divided into two types: large and small. A city that is “big” was a major U.S. City, a major suburb, or any city with more than 250,000 people was considered a big city. Technically, a city with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants was considered “small”, even though the majority of them had between 1,000 and 50,000 residents.
Retail locations and vision centers were significantly cheaper than private ones, with national averages at $77 and $80. None of the vision centers that were surveyed charged more than $100 for an exam. Retailers were more diverse, offering prices ranging from $45 to $150.
Although we included upfront discounts that were not required to be purchased, there are other options available at some retail locations to lower the cost of exams. For a slightly higher cost, this usually meant that you could bundle an exam with one or more sets of glasses from a specific selection of frames.
Exam charges for private offices were significantly higher than those charged by their counterparts. The average exam cost $128, which is at least 60% more than retail and vision centers.
By a mere $4, big cities and their metropolitan areas ($93 average) beat smaller cities ($97 on average). This is a statistical tie.
Lower prices depending on the region
The average cost of eye exams in the southern and middle parts of the country was lower. An eye exam for the entire body in the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest cost $90 on average.
Our most affordable region was the Midwest. Individual exams cost $39 with dilation at a local vision center. An exam in the Midwest costs $78 on average.
Places that are more expensive
The Northeast saw an increase in eye exam costs, while West and Northwest saw a sharp rise.
The average exam in the Northwest cost $112, which is 44% more than the average Midwestern exam. At $110, the average exam in West was close behind.
The highest average was found in the Northwest, as well as the highest individual exam cost: $240 in a private practice.
Although average prices didn’t change by the size of the city, private offices were more expensive in dense areas that have high real estate markets like San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
This is not surprising if you live in one these areas.
Check out our infographic for an illustrated summary of our findings. You can print it or simply take a look at the visual representation of eye exam costs in the U.S.
Other factors that can affect the price
It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the terminology and options surrounding such an apparently simple task. You might be astonished by buzzwords such as refraction, dilation, and retinography, and wonder how they all factor into the final cost.
We calculated the minimum amount required to get a complete eye exam at each location. This was calculated differently at different locations. These factors include:
Retinal imaging and dilation
These in-office procedures enable a doctor check the health of the retina in each eye. These procedures can be used to detect problems at any age but they are recommended most for patients over 60 and those with certain diseases or risk factors.
Dilation involves diluting the pupils with eye drops. Retinal imaging, on the other hand, takes a wide-angle picture of the retina and does not require dilating. If retinal imaging is performed, a separate dilation procedure will not be required.
Most eye exams were free with dilation (72%) and not charged an additional fee (28%).
The average dilation price was $24 when dilation is separately charged.
Strangely, the exact opposite for retinal imaging was also true. It was more common for retinal imaging to be included in the exam cost (72%) rather than to charge an extra fee (72%). When invoiced separately, the average fee for retinal image was $33.
Before your next exam, make sure you call ahead to inquire about dilation and retinal imaging. This is especially important if you are certain that you won’t need it.
Tip: Retinal imaging may be covered by your medical insurance.
Self-pay, return patients and new patients
A handful of retail and private locations offered discounts to new patients. They also mentioned cash customers who didn’t have vision insurance (self-pay). Several mentioned the possibility of online coupons.
All discounts that were available were included in our eye exam prices. We were not able to get discounts from any of our vision centers.
Private optometrists often charge less for returning patients than medical doctors. Retail and vision centers generally charge the same fee whether you are a new or returning patient.
It is important to consider the possibility of lower exam costs if you are considering a privately-owned office.
What we learned
Although our survey was not scientific, the results were clear. The type of office or vision shop and its geographical location will have an impact on how much you’ll likely pay for your next routine exam.
The average regional results were consistent with higher living costs across the country. Pew’s 2018 study found that money was not as valuable along the West Coast or in the Northeast U.S.A, which are the three most expensive regions.
However, did not seem to have a significant impact on average exam prices due to the higher cost of living in large cities.
Private optometrists charge more, but they are more likely to be able to bill less if you return twice. Locally owned and operated businesses are more appealing to you.
There’s nothing wrong with finding the best price. Only you will be able to weigh all the options and choose which eye doctor is best for your needs.