How eye tests are covered by Australian healthcare

You can get free eye tests in Australia as long as you have Medicare. Here’s what you need to know.

Having your eyes tested regularly can help underlying issues that could spell vision problems later.

Medicare will cover you once every 3 years if you're under 65.

What is an eye test?

There are actually a few tests that eye doctors can perform to diagnose vision problems. The best way to think about eye tests is to break them down into main categories, but they will normally be done during one visit:

Vision screening

This is a series of tests that try to work out if you have a problem with your vision. It doesn't diagnose any problems, but it does tell the doctor whether there is a problem for further review. During a vision screening, an optician (an eye care professional who is not a doctor) will test for the following:

  • How well your eyes react to light
  • How clear you can see at distances (that chart with the big E)
  • How well your two eyes coordinate with each other
  • If you can recognise various colours

If the vision screening uncovers any potential problems, you may need a more comprehensive vision test.

Comprehensive vision test

An optometrist or an ophthalmologist will conduct this test. They are both doctors and can diagnose vision problems and prescribe corrective lenses. They will conduct a more thorough investigation by using more advanced technology and considering a wider range of personal health factors. Here's the info they'll seek to gather or test:

  • Your health and medication history
  • Your vision history
  • What your eye and its parts look like physically
  • How sharp your vision is at near and far distances
  • How well you see to the side when looking ahead (peripheral vision)

Signs you might need an eye test

If you are struggling to see, then you should go in for a vision screening immediately. Here are some signs that a vision screening is in order:

  • You have blurred vision
  • You see "floaters" or little small shapes of varying sizes and colours (this could be the sign of a serious eye issue, so seek medical attention immediately)
  • You have dry, itchy or red eyes
  • Your vision is worsening at either near or far ranges
  • Your eyes get tired or strained often
  • You find yourself squinting often
  • Your eyes are sensitive to light

How often should you get an eye test?

If you aren't experiencing any of the symptoms above, then there is no hurry. However, it is a good idea to get your vision screened periodically. The Optometrists Association of Australia (OAA) recommends the following schedule for vision screenings:

  • Children. Children should have their eyes tested at several crucial developmental stages: before age three, before they start school at age four or five, when they turn seven or eight and then toward the end of their high school years.
  • Adults 18-64. Every two years.
  • Adults 65+. Every year.

Anyone who is at risk of eye problems should also be tested yearly or as recommended by their doctor. People at risk include the following:

  • People with a family history of eye disease
  • People who have had eye surgery
  • People who have diabetes
  • People who are taking medication that can affect vision

Does Medicare cover eye tests?

Despite the OAA's recommendation for adults to undergo vision screening every two years, Medicare will only cover you for one regular vision screening every three years until you are 65. At that point, you can get one every year. People with certain eye diseases like glaucoma or diabetes are also covered as their treatment requires.

Does private health insurance cover eye tests?

While many private health insurance policies cover optical services, they do not usually cover vision screenings since Medicare already does. One exception is if the screening happens as part of inpatient treatment for an eye condition.

But where it really makes a difference is if you have been prescribed glasses or contacts as a result of your test. In that case, an extras policy can cover up to 100% of the cost of frames, prescription lenses and contact lenses. Those are things Medicare doesn't cover, so you'll be glad to have the extras cover when it really matters.

Which private health insurers cover optical?

Below are a few funds from Finder partners that cover Optical in extras. We've displayed the yearly limit. They also include other benefits such as dental - using the range of extras covered is a great way to get value for money.

Fund Policy Included treatments Limit Price Apply
HCF Logo Image: Supplied


Starter Extras
  • Spectacle frames
  • Spectacle lenses
  • Contact lenses
$100.00 $16.25 Go to Site
nib logo Image: Supplied


Core extras
  • Prescription glasses
  • Contact lenses
$250.00 $30.26 Go to Site
AHM logo Image: Supplied


black 60
  • With this cover you get 100% back on optical up to annual limits to spend on included services, such as the cost of glasses, frames, lenses, repairs, and contact lenses.
$200.00 $34.50 Go to Site

*Quotes are based on single individual with less than $90,000 income and living in Sydney. Always check for combined limits

Where can I get an eye test done?

The most convenient place to get your eyes tested is at your local optical shop, where they have in-house optometrists who can conduct vision screenings and comprehensive vision tests if necessary. Just make sure you take your Medicare card into your appointment.

Opticians can also diagnose vision problems and prescribe corrective lenses.

Here are some other places you can get basic tests that will let you know if seeing an optometrist is a good idea:

  • Your GP. If you're not quite sure you need proper vision testing, your GP can do some simple vision tests and offer you advice.
  • The motor vehicle registry. Many drivers are required to pass an eye test to receive their licence. Your performance on this test may suggest that it's time to see a professional.

What are online eye tests?

A few websites offer simple online eye tests that claim to tell you how well you can see. However, these are not meant to replace proper eye exams conducted by a trained clinician or doctor. For one thing, they only attempt to measure one element of vision: how well you can see at various distances.

Many say, it’s best to avoid these tests altogether. You're unlikely to hurt yourself doing them, but they could give you a false sense of confidence that causes you to delay sight-saving treatment.

How to read your prescription

For the most part, you prescription will score both of your eyes according to several values that relate to different aspects of your vision. Your right eye will be labelled as OD and your left eye will be labelled as OS. Here are the most common values you'll be scored on:

This refers to the thickness of your lens sphere and tells you if you are nearsighted or farsighted. If you are nearsighted, you will see a negative value, and the more negative it is, the more nearsighted you are. If you are farsighted, you'll see a positive number. The more positive it is, the more farsighted you are.

CYL refers to how round the corneas of your eyes are. Perfectly round eyes will receive no score. The more oval your eyes are, the more your score will increase from a base of zero. The higher the score, the higher degree of astigmatism, a condition that can cause blurred vision.

AXIS refers to the angle of the astigmatism, and the score here is the actual degree of the angle.

For older people who need reading glasses, this is a number that suggests if more correction is needed for close distances.

Tips on getting prescription glasses that are right for you

Choosing the right pair of glasses is a very important task. They not only need to correct your vision, but they also need to be comfortable and stylish enough for you to actually want to wear them. Here are some tips to help make spec shopping easier:

  • Make sure your prescription is up-to-date. There's no use walking in with an old prescription for a new set of specs. Your eyes can change all the time, so if you are upgrading the look, make sure you upgrade the prescription.
  • Choose a frame that suits your facial structure. People with round faces look better in short, wide glasses. People with square faces look better in oval or round frames. People with oval faces have a little more choice and can try a number of different shapes and sizes.
  • Choose a frame that suits your style. You could be wearing your glasses every day, so make sure you pick an option you’d be comfortable wearing for every occasion.
  • Choose the right lens material. You may be asked whether you want to upgrade your lenses with a variety of complex-sounding materials. These options, which will impact the cost, include the following:
  • Standard plastic lenses, which are cheap but prone to scratching
  • Polycarbonate lenses, which are strong (think sports eyewear) but not as good visually
  • High-index lenses, which are durable and useful for strong prescriptions
  • Aspheric lenses, which keep your eyes from looking too large or too small
  • Multi-focal lenses, which are used to correct near and farsightedness at the same time
  • Choose your lens coating. After you’ve chosen the lens, you can then choose from several coatings: non-scratch, anti-reflective (to reduce glare) or UV eye protection (to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays).
  • Buy the right size. Frames come in different sizes, so work with the optometrist to make sure you are buying the right size frame for your face.
  • Beware when buying your glasses online. You may run the risk of buying an ill-fitting or uncomfortable pair of frames you’ll never wear.
  • Look into health insurance. For less than the cost of a pair of glasses, extras cover can pay for not only the glasses, but also a host of other services including dental, physio and prescription medication.

Compare extras cover for optical - from $4 per week

Simply refine your search by 'Optical' on the results page.


Eye Exam Frequency?
Picture: David Travis - Unsplash

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