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Are Eye Exams Free in Alberta? Understanding Your Vision Coverage

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Are Eye Exams Free in Alberta? Understanding Your Vision Coverage

A male optometrist using a medical device to examine the eyes of a female patient and look for potential eye problems.

Regular eye exams are extremely important. They’re the key to catching potential eye conditions early and keeping your vision clear and strong. And as you age, they become more and more important—they’re like an annual checkup for your eyes. But if you live in Alberta, you might find yourself worrying: are eye exams free in Alberta?

Basic eye exams for children under the age of 19 and seniors 65 and older are covered by Alberta Health Care. Retinal imaging, however, which is a very important part of assessing ocular health, is not covered by AHC and is recommended at every full exam. Most ocular health exams done for medical reasons like eye infections, removing foreign bodies, diagnosing and managing eye diseases, etc., are covered by AHC for all ages.

What’s the Purpose of an Eye Exam?

Many people think that a comprehensive eye exam is just about checking your prescription for glasses or contacts. But while this is a part of it, it’s not entirely the case. A regular eye exam is designed to be a thorough evaluation of your entire visual system and overall eye health.

It’s true that they can detect common vision problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness. But it also lets an optometrist look for signs of:

  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetes
  • Cataracts
  • High blood pressure
  • Age-related changes in the eye, like presbyopia
  • Any other vision or eye-related problem

Through a series of tests, your optometrist can determine how healthy your eyes are. They can see if you’re developing an eye condition or an eye-related medical problem and recommend appropriate treatment. And don’t worry—you’ll still get an up-to-date prescription.

Are Eye Exams Covered in Alberta?

In Alberta, there’s a plan called AHCIP: the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan. This is a plan available to residents of Alberta for many different medical concerns ranging from specialized dental care to some optometry services—as long as the services are found in Alberta. So, if you leave the province to visit an optometrist, you won’t be covered by AHCIP.

This plan covers eye exams to a certain extent. There are qualifications that you’ll need to meet before an eye exam is covered. But in general, this plan covers:

  • Children and teens under the age of 19 for one covered exam every year, along with one partial eye exam 
  • Seniors 65 and over for one covered eye exam every year and one partial exam
  • Services that a medical professional deems to be medically necessary

AHCIP does not cover any type of laser eye surgery unless it’s a medical emergency.

When Isn’t an Eye Exam Covered in Alberta?

If you’re between the age of 19-64, you’ll need to cover the exam yourself. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if you’ve recently experienced some kind of facial trauma and a doctor thinks you need to visit an optometrist, this exam will be covered. However, it will not include the release of a glasses prescription.

Make sure you bring your health card along!

There’s another thing to note. While the standard exam will be covered for children and seniors, this doesn’t include any type of retinal imaging. Retinal imaging is when the optometrist takes a picture of the back of your eye and is used to help detect potential diseases. 

It’s highly recommended because many eye diseases have no initial signs or symptoms and it lets your optometrist gain an in-depth understanding of exactly what’s occurring in your eye. Having an eye exam without retinal imaging is only doing half the job. 

Think of it like getting blood work done when you go visit the family physician. You can definitely book an appointment without it, but if you’re looking to make the most of your visit, paying the extra money is certainly a good idea to fully understand what’s going on with your eyes. You can’t put a price on your vision after all!

And don’t forget: if you’re unsure of whether or not your exam will be covered, you can always contact your optometrist and explain the situation. They’ll be able to give you an accurate estimate.

How Often Should You Get an Eye Exam?

It’s recommended by the Canadian Association of Optometrists that adults over the age of 19 visit their optometrist annually. Many eye conditions can develop without you noticing, and regularly visiting the optometrist gives you a good chance of catching them in early development—when they’re typically most treatable.

For seniors over the age of 65, it’s recommended to visit at least once a year and more often if you have any existing eye conditions.

A woman in an optical clinic shaking hands with her optometrist.

Book Your Next Eye Exam

It’s extremely important to schedule regular eye exams with an optometrist. After all, we’re eye care professionals, and we’re here to help keep your vision clear. So, if you need to schedule a comprehensive eye exam, book an appointment with us at Calgary Family Eye Doctors. We’re here for you!

Written by
Dr. Brent Hopfauf

Dr. Hopfauf is a born-and-raised Calgarian and one of the proud owners of Calgary Family Eye Doctors. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree with distinction from the University of Calgary, he headed to Ontario for the Optometry Program at the University of Waterloo. Upon graduation, Dr. Hopfauf was named Class Valedictorian. He has had the unique opportunity to further his training in ocular diseases in Houston, Texas and has studied specific conditions that include glaucoma, cataracts, dry eyes, and uveitis.

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Dr. Brent Hopfauf

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