Guide to vision care benefits for First Nations and Inuit

Effective date: October 20, 2022

Note to reader: Indigenous Service Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and the Assembly of First Nations have undertaken a Joint Review of the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, including the vision care benefit. The objectives of this collaborative process are to enhance client access to benefits, identify and address gaps in benefits, and improve service delivery to be more responsive to client needs. Further revisions to this guide are anticipated as work continues to address recommendations from the Joint Review of vision care benefits.

This guide provides information on the vision care benefits for eligible First Nations and Inuit covered by Indigenous Services Canada's Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program. Other items related to vision care are also covered by the NIHB program under other benefit areas, such as low vision aids, ocular prosthesis , scleral shell and medications used to treat eye conditions. See section 3.6 Low vision aids, ocular prosthesis and medications.

Express Scripts Canada provides claims processing services for the NIHB program's vision care benefit. Please refer to the Vision Care Regional Fee Grids available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website. Providers will continue to obtain prior approval from the NIHB regional office in the province or territory where the service is provided.

Providers should submit claims directly to the NIHB program (through Express Scripts Canada) so that clients are not required to pay at the point of service. Clients can contact their regional office for assistance in locating a vision care provider who will bill the program directly, in accordance with Vision Care Regional Fee Grids (available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website), for services provided. In the event that no such providers are available locally, travel support may be considered in order to access a vision care provider who will bill the program directly.

Table of contents

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Purpose of the guide

This guide provides information on Indigenous Services Canada's Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program vision care benefit. The purpose of this guide is to outline the terms and conditions, criteria, guidelines and policies under which the NIHB program's vision care benefit operates.

In this guide, you will find information regarding:

  • eligible services
  • frequency guidelines
  • benefit coverage and exceptions
  • payments and reimbursement

In the event that this guide does not address questions regarding general policies, processing of payment requests, or specific conditions, clients or vision care providers may contact their NIHB regional office. Further information can also be found in the Vision Care Claims Submission Kit available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website.

1.2 About the vision care benefit

The NIHB program's vision care benefit provides eligible clients (Appendix D: Client eligibility) with coverage for eye examinations and corrective eyewear; this includes:

  • eye examinations when they are not insured by the province or territory
  • corrective eyewear (glasses, contact lenses) when prescribed by a vision care professional
  • repairs to corrective eyewear

The program provides eligible clients (Appendix D: Client eligibility) coverage for eligible benefits when coverage is not available to the client under provincial, territorial or private health insurance (for example, in many provinces and territories, eye examinations may be an insured service for clients based on their age or with certain medical conditions). For more information on coordination of benefits with other plans, refer to Section 4.5 Coordination of benefits.

1.3 Benefit criteria

Vision care benefits are covered in accordance with NIHB program policies. Eye examinations and eyewear must be provided by a licensed vision care professional in accordance with provincial or territorial legislation and regulations. Providers must obtain prior approval from the NIHB regional office in the province or territory where the service is provided (section 4.3 Prior approval).

Vision care benefits are eligible for coverage for registered First Nations and recognized Inuit when all the following criteria are met:

  • the requested item or service is eligible (section 2.0 Eye examination and section 3.0 Corrective eyewear)
  • the prescription is valid (less than 2 years old, signed by the prescribing optometrist and contains the required information according to established professional standards and applicable provincial/territorial legislation and regulations)
  • the item or service is prescribed and provided according to established professional standards and applicable provincial/territorial legislation and regulations
  • prior approval must be obtained from the NIHB regional office in the province or territory where the service is provided
  • any provincial, territorial public or private health insurance plans or programs for which the client is eligible must be accessed first

2.0 Eye examination

2.1 Eligible services

Coverage for eye examination within the frequency guidelines (section 2.2 Eye examination frequency guidelines) falls into three (3) major categories:

  • general examination
  • follow-up examination
  • single tests

Please refer to the Vision Care Regional Fee Grids available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website.

An eye exam is eligible only when it is carried out in person by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Eye exams in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are provided under arrangements managed by the territorial governments. In exceptional circumstances, the NIHB program may enrol optometrists (through Express Scripts Canada) on a time-limited basis, to supplement the services provided in these territories.

Providers will not be reimbursed for missed appointments.

2.1.1 General examination

The Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program covers the following tests as part of a general exam. Coverage for the general exam is based on frequency guidelines (section 2.2 Eye examination frequency guidelines).

  • case history
  • external examination of the eye
  • assessment of visual acuity
  • profile of ocular motility
  • objective and subjective measurement of refraction
  • assessment of binocular coordination
  • assessment of amplitude of accommodation, when required
  • biomicroscopy and assessment of pupillary reflexes
  • tonometry
  • confrontation visual fields
  • direct ophthalmoscopy
  • analysis and diagnosis of findings

Additional tests may be covered on an exception basis based on medical need (section 2.1.3 Single tests).

2.1.2 Follow-up examination

A follow-up examination is the repetition of one or more tests from the general examination which are needed to assess the condition or progression of the client's oculo-visual condition. Coverage may be approved as an exception and is based on medical need (for example: findings from general exams, chronic health conditions). Details of the client's medical condition and the specific test(s) to be repeated must be provided in writing by the prescriber.

2.1.3 Single tests

Clients may be eligible for single eye tests when their ocular or visual condition requires the use of specific additional tests. Coverage may be approved as an exception and is based on medical need. The request must include in writing the client's vision diagnosis and any other pertinent medical conditions, the current results from the general or follow-up eye exam including the client's valid vision prescription, and any other medical justification supporting the need for the single test. For example, for specialized tests for glaucoma, prescribers must include eye pressure readings.

Single tests include:

  • assessment of visual fields, using visual field analyzer
  • colour blindness test
  • examination of the peripheral retina under pupil dilation
  • gonioscopy of the angle
  • study of oculomotor imbalance
  • study of contrast sensitivity function over at least six (6) spatial frequencies
  • measurement of aniseikonia using an eikonometer or afocal magnifying lenses
  • precise assessment of visual impairment and trial of optical aids
  • assessment of corneal topography using a computerized video-keratoscope
  • electroretinogram measurement or visually evoked potentials
  • trial contact lens and assessment of ocular reaction for clients who meet the criteria for exception contact lenses (section 3.4.3 Exception: Contact lenses and 3.4.5 Exception: Eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions)
  • Cycloplegic refraction test (for children aged 7 years and under without strabismus and children aged 12 years and under with strabismus)

Coverage for single tests not listed above will be reviewed case-by-case and is based on medical need (as above).

All single tests must include recommendations to the patient and, if necessary, a prescription for treatment.

2.1.4 Clients with diagnosed medical conditions affecting the eye

Clients with diagnosed medical conditions affecting the eye, such as diabetes, glaucoma, cataract, age-related macular degeneration, may be eligible for a general examination and additional single tests every year (note that this is covered as an insured service in several provinces).

2.2 Eye examination frequency guidelines

Eye examination Frequency guidelines
General exam
  • under 18 years old (ends day before 18th birthday) - 1 per calendar year
  • 18 years old or over (starts on 18th birthday) - 1 every 2 calendar years
  • clients with diagnosed medical conditions affecting the eye - 1 per calendar year (written medical justification may be required)
Follow-up exam reviewed case-by-case
Single test reviewed case-by-case
Once the eye exam is complete, clients are encouraged to order eyewear right away to be sure that it meets their current needs.

3.0 Corrective eyewear

3.1 Eligible services

To be eligible for eyewear within the frequency guidelines (section 3.2 Corrective eyewear frequency guidelines), the client must have a valid prescription from a licensed vision care professional qualified to do so under applicable provincial or territorial legislation and regulations. The prescription must correct for one or more of the following conditions:

  • refractive error (myopia, hypermetropia and/or astigmatism)
  • presbyopia
  • oculo-motor imbalance

The client's prescription must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • in at least one eye, require spherical and/or cylindrical correction of at least 0.50 diopter, and/or for presbyopia, have an add power of at least 0.75 diopter
  • require prismatic correction totalling at least 1.00 prism diopter vertically or at least 2.00 prism diopters horizontally

3.2 Corrective eyewear frequency guidelines

Coverage for corrective eyewear (glasses, contact lenses) is provided as follows:

Age group Frequency
Clients under 18 years (ends day before 18th birthday) 1 per calendar year
Clients 18 years or over (starts on 18th birthday) 1 every 2 calendar years
Once the eye exam is complete, clients are encouraged to order eyewear right away to be sure that it meets their current needs.

Frequency of coverage is calculated by calendar year only, not months and days. For example, for a two-year frequency, a client who received coverage for new eyewear at any time in 2022 will be eligible again starting on January 1, 2024, unless the client qualifies for early replacement per section 3.4.6 Exception: Early lens replacement due to change in prescription.

3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts

The NIHB program provides clients with 2 types of coverage amounts for prescriptions: standard and high index. The coverage amount for which the client is eligible is determined by the client's eye examination and resulting prescription and may be used towards the purchase of any type of prescription eyewear (glasses or contact lenses).

A coverage amount includes all costs, including tints and coatings, dispensing fees, frames, lenses and fittings. No other coverage will be provided except as described in section 3.4 Exceptions and criteria for approval. Please refer to the Vision Care Regional Fee Grids available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website.

Item Criteria for approval
Standard coverage amount
  • coverage for clients who require a correction whose minimum power in a meridian is under ±7.00 in both eyes, and who do not qualify for one of the other coverage amounts
  • client's prescription must address minimum requirements specified in section 3.1 Eligible services
High index coverage amount
  • coverage for clients who require a correction whose minimum power in a meridian is ±7.00 or more in at least one eye

For coverage of eyewear for clients with exceptional prescriptions or eye conditions, please see section 3.4 Exceptions and criteria for approval. Exceptions include:

  • polycarbonate lenses
  • tints and coatings
  • exception contact lenses
  • flex frames
  • eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions
  • early lens replacement due to change in prescription
  • repairs or replacement due to breakage, damage or loss
  • inability to adjust to multifocal eyewear

Any additional costs over the maximum eligible amounts are the responsibility of the client. Providers are to inform the client when the cost of the eyewear selected exceeds the coverage amount and/or which will require the client to pay the balance.

3.3.1 Residual amount

Any unused portion of a coverage amount, or residual amount, will remain available to clients until the end of the frequency period (section 3.2 Corrective eyewear frequency guidelines). The residual amount will be applied to any future eyewear purchases within the same frequency period. For example, if during the same frequency period, a client has a residual amount, it will be applied should the client purchase another pair of glasses or requests a lens replacement. Residual amounts cannot be applied to eye exams since they have a separate fee structure.

The program will keep track of the residual amount until the end of the frequency period. Clients can contact their NIHB regional office to find out their residual amount.

3.4 Exceptions and criteria for approval

For all exception items, a written signed prescription and/or details of the client's medical condition must be provided in writing by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Additional coverage amount(s) may be approved, where relevant, in addition to the coverage amount(s) (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts) for which a client qualifies.

3.4.1 Exception: Polycarbonate lenses

Coverage for polycarbonate lenses is eligible when the client meets the following criteria:

Item Criteria for approval
Glasses with polycarbonate lenses Coverage for clients in cases where the client has just one functional eye or for clients who, with the best possible correction, have far visual acuity in the weaker eye which is equal to or less than 6/60 (20/200)

3.4.2 Exception: Tints and coatings

Any client may use their coverage amount towards the purchase of tints or coatings of their choice. However, those with medical justification may qualify for additional amount(s), where relevant, for these items (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts).

Item Criteria for approval
Tints

Tinted lenses must have an average transmission over the visible spectrum of 40 %, as long as the tinted lenses provide total ultraviolet (UV) protection.

Coverage is eligible for the following conditions:

  • albinism
  • aniridia
  • certain chronic conditions of the anterior segment of the eye causing photophobia
  • prolonged usage of some drugs that cause photosensitivity
Ultraviolet protection Filter

Coverage is eligible for the following conditions:

  • aphakia (without intra-ocular lens)
  • cataracts
  • retinal degeneration or dystrophy
  • prolonged usage of some drugs that cause photosensitivity
  • where tints are authorized (see above)

3.4.3 Exception: Contact lenses

In some cases, contact lenses may be the most appropriate way to correct vision for a client with certain prescriptions. Clients with one of the following conditions (in the table below) may qualify for additional coverage for both contact lenses and back-up glasses based on detailed medical justification or a valid prescription from an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.

Note that clients who do not demonstrate one of the conditions (in the table below) may choose to use their standard or high index coverage amount towards the fitting and purchase of contact lenses.

Item Criteria for approval
Exception contact lenses Coverage for exception contact lenses is eligible if the client has one or more of the following conditions:
  • astigmatism of at least 3.00 diopters in at least one eye in the glasses prescription
  • myopia or hypermetropia of at least 7.00 diopters in the spherical component in at least one eye in the glasses prescription
  • anisometropia or antimetropia of at least 2.00 diopters
Back-up glasses for exception contact lens wearers only If a back-up pair of glasses is dispensed, the client qualifies for one Standard or High Index coverage amount based on their prescription (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts) or exception coverage amount (section 3.4 Exceptions and criteria for approval).

The exception contact lens coverage amount is to be applied towards the purchase of contact lenses. Additional coverage may be provided towards an annual progress examination (section 2.1.3 Single tests) and the purchase of glasses to use as a back-up. The coverage amount specific to the back-up glasses is based on the prescription (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts).

For coverage of specialty or custom-made contact lenses for ocular pathologies such as corneal irregularities, please see section 3.4.5 Exception: Eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions.

3.4.4 Exception: Flex frames

Where the client is young or has a medical condition (for example: Down syndrome, craniofacial disorders) that makes handling frames difficult, the client may be eligible for coverage of flex frames on top of the coverage amounts (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts).

Item Criteria for approval
Flex frames
  • infants and children 4 years and under
  • client has a medical condition that makes handling frames difficult

3.4.5 Exception: Eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions

Where a client's prescription or eye condition requires corrective lenses (glasses and/or contact lenses) with a very high laboratory cost that exceeds the corresponding standard coverage amount (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts), additional coverage may be considered on an exception basis. To support consideration of such requests, the following are required to be submitted in writing:

  • a valid prescription and/or medical justification
  • a detailed breakdown of laboratory costs by lens feature(s) (for example, types of lenses, lens index, coatings); and dispensing fees (if applicable). Note: for lenses for glasses, laboratory costs must be based on lenses with a refractive index of 1.67 or below.

Additional coverage may be provided towards an annual progress examination (section 2.1.3 Single tests) and the purchase of glasses to use as a back-up.

Exception coverage provided is for the actual cost of the lenses, therefore there will be no residual coverage amount remaining. Exception coverage for eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions can be requested using the exception lenses (lenses for glasses, contact lenses) and/or the exception frames (for glasses) item codes. For the codes, please refer to the Vision Care Regional Fee Grids available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website.

Item Criteria for approval
Eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions Coverage for eyewear for high prescriptions or eye conditions may be eligible if the client meets one or more of the following criteria:
  • clients under 12 years old whose minimum power in a meridian is greater than 3.00 diopters of hyperopia or requiring bifocals for the management of strabismus
  • a correction whose minimum power in a meridian is greater than +9.00 diopters for hyperopia and -12.00 diopters for myopia in at least one eye
  • astigmatism greater than ±3.00 diopters in at least one eye
  • anisometropia greater than 3.00 diopters between the two eyes
  • corneal irregularities requiring specialty eyewear
  • optometrist-prescribed treatment of certain ocular pathologies, if authorized by provincial or territorial legislation
  • extended-wear contact lenses for clients with a neurological or arthritic condition which makes it difficult for them to physically handle contact lenses

3.4.6 Exception: Early lens replacement due to change in prescription

If a client's prescription changes significantly and replacement lenses are required outside of the regular frequency guidelines, coverage for the replacement of contact lenses or eyeglass lenses (using existing frames) is eligible when the new prescription demonstrates one of the following criteria in at least one eye:

Item Criteria for approval
Replacement of lenses for glasses

Coverage for replacement of lenses for glasses is eligible if the new power meets the eligibility criteria for eyewear (section 3.1 Eligible services) AND meets one or more of the following criteria in at least one eye:

  • a change in spherical equivalent for the lens of at least 0.50 diopter
  • a change in addition of at least 0.50 diopter
  • a change in axis of:
    • 15 degrees or more for cylindrical power up to 2.00 diopters
    • 10 degrees or more for a cylindrical power greater than 2.00 diopters
  • a change in prism of at least:
    • 1.00 prism diopter vertically
    • 2.00 prism diopters horizontally

This applies to standard or high index coverage amount (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts) or exception coverage amounts (section 3.4 Exceptions and criteria for approval)

Replacement of contact lenses

Coverage for replacement contact lenses is eligible if the new power meets the eligibility criteria for eyewear (section 3.1 Eligible services) AND meets one or more of the following criteria in at least one eye:

  • a change of in spherical equivalent of at least 0.50 diopter
  • a change in addition of at least 0.50 diopter
  • a change of cylinder axis of 10 degrees or more in a toric contact lens

This applies to standard or high index coverage amount (section 3.3 Eyewear coverage amounts) or exception contact lenses (section 3.4.3 Exception: Contact lenses)

Note:

  • For all early lens replacement requests, the eye exam must have been done in the preceding three (3) months.

3.4.7 Exception: Repairs or replacement due to breakage, damage or loss

All frames provided must be of a type that can be repaired and carry a replacement warranty against defective workmanship and materials for a minimum of one (1) year from the date of issue. Providers must keep warranty information on all items purchased by the client in the client's record or file. Any costs covered under warranty are not eligible for reimbursement by the program.

Coverage for minor and major repairs may be provided for in the event the client damages their corrective eyewear prior to the start of the next frequency period in which the client will be eligible for new eyewear. Accordingly, coverage amounts for minor and major repairs cannot be used towards the cost of the original eyewear nor to purchase an additional pair.

When requesting coverage for minor or major repairs, details about the damage are required to be submitted, including:

  • specific details on the nature of the damage (for example, left frame end piece damaged or right hinge damaged)
  • what, if any damage is covered under replacement warranty
  • the estimated cost to repair the pieces that are damaged

Coverage for minor and major repairs may be provided on the condition that the repairs render the eyewear acceptable for wear, and that repair costs do not exceed the prices in the Vision Care Regional Fee Grids available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website. Eyeglass repair kits for client use at home may be covered using the minor repair code.

Coverage for replacement of eyewear in the event of breakage, damage or loss may also be considered with justification and supporting documentation of the incident that caused the need for replacement (such as an insurance, police or medical report citing the incident). Replacements resulting from misuse or carelessness will not be considered for adults but may be considered on an exception basis for children.

Item Criteria for approval
Repairs, minor
  • includes repairs to frame, such as nose pads and hinges (prescription is NOT required)
  • includes eyeglass repair kits (of the type a client would purchase for use at home)
Repairs, major
  • includes repairs to frame, such as fronts and frame arms (prescription is NOT required)
  • includes replacement of one lens of the same prescription
Replacement of entire glasses or contact lenses in the event of breakage, damage or loss
  • for clients 18 years and older, supporting documentation is required of the incident that caused it (such as an insurance, police or medical report citing the incident) Supporting documentation is not required for clients under 18 years
Frequency guidelines: Repairs or replacement due to breakage, damage or loss
Item Frequency
Repairs, minor
  • under 18 years old (ends day before 18th birthday) - 1 per calendar year
  • 18 years old or over (starts on 18th birthday) - 1 every 2 calendar years
Repairs, major
  • under 18 years old (ends day before 18th birthday) - 1 per calendar year
  • 18 years old or over (starts on 18th birthday) - 1 every 2 calendar years
Replacement of entire glasses or contact lenses
  • under 18 years old (ends day before 18th birthday) - reviewed case-by-case
  • 18 years old or over (starts on 18th birthday) - reviewed case-by-case; supporting documentation is required of the incident that caused it (such as an insurance, police or medical report citing the incident)

3.4.8 Exception: Inability to adjust to multifocal glasses

Most clients who have more than one prescription can have these prescriptions fitted in one frame and find this most convenient for their everyday use. Clients who have not previously used multifocal glasses, such as bifocals and progressives, should attempt full-time wear for a trial period of (three) 3 months. If by the end of this trial period, the client remains unable to adjust to using multifocal glasses, and provided that the client meets the prescription requirements outlined in section 3.1 Eligible services, the client may qualify for:

A client does not have to undergo a new trial period if they have already done so in the past, or if there are contra-indications owing to a cervical or ocular mobility abnormality attested to by the optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Multifocal glasses Criteria for approval
Second pair for client unable to adjust to multifocal glasses after trial period

First time users only:

  • client has attempted to wear the multifocal glasses for at least three (3) months
  • in addition to a second coverage amount, client may receive coverage towards the cost of the lens replacement, since the original frame can be reused for one pair
  • the invoice must show that both of these items were provided to the client
Two pairs for a client who has already tried and been unable to adjust to multifocal glasses in the past
  • client has undergone a trial period in the past
  • client has contra-indications owing to a cervical or ocular mobility abnormality attested to by the optometrist or ophthalmologist
  • the invoice must show that both of these items were provided to the client

3.5 Exclusions

Exclusions are goods and services which will not be covered by the NIHB program under any circumstances and are not subject to the NIHB program's appeal process.

Exclusions include:

  • additional eye exams or costs over the coverage eligibility or frequency to obtain employment, a driver's license or to engage in sports activity, or at the request of a third party (for example, completing a report or medical certificate)
  • eyeglass cleaning kit
  • no tears shampoo
  • any vision items for aesthetic purposes (for example, non-prescription glasses or cosmetic contacts)
  • contact lens solution
  • replacements for adults as a result of misuse, carelessness or client negligence
  • implants (for example, punctal occlusion procedure and intraocular lenses)
  • refractive laser surgery
  • treatments with investigational or experimental status
  • vision therapy
  • eyewear purchased online or outside Canada
  • tele-optometry eye examinations
  • automated sight or vision tests (these do not assess eye health)

3.6 Low vision aids, ocular prosthesis and medications

Low vision aids, such as magnifiers and canes, ocular prosthesis and scleral shell are covered under the Medical Supplies and Equipment benefit. Eligible professionals who dispense these items can enrol for direct billing with the program. For more information, you may consult the Medical Supplies and Equipment Guide and Benefit Lists (for ocular prosthesis and scleral shell in section 7.2.1 Ocular and for magnifiers and canes in section 10.2 Low vision aids) or you can contact your NIHB regional office.

Medications used to treat conditions such as macular degeneration and post cataract surgery may be covered under the Pharmacy benefit. For more information, vision care providers or clients may consult the NIHB Drug Benefit List (available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website) or contact the Drug Exception Centre at 1-800-580-0950, as these cannot be claimed as vision care items.

4.0 Information for clients and providers: Approvals and payment

4.1 Ordering eyewear: A note to clients

Clients should be aware that eyewear is custom made. Once the optometrist or optician has made the eyewear, it cannot be used by anyone else. Clients must make arrangements with the provider's office to pick up their eyewear when it is complete. A provider will generally hold eyewear for a maximum of four (4) months from the time they were ready for pick up. Clients must sign the claim form or a separate form such as the invoice, to confirm they have picked up their eyewear. If a client must travel outside their community to have their new glasses fitted by the vision care provider, medical transportation coverage may be available. Clients may contact their NIHB regional office for additional information.

Clients do not have to order their eyewear through the same vision care provider who does the exam. If clients choose to have eyewear made elsewhere (such as through a separate optician), they should communicate this to their optometrist or optometric clinic.

The cost of eyewear varies greatly based on the choices made by the client. Clients should ask their provider to confirm the total cost of the eyewear selected before the provider orders the eyewear. The client is responsible for any cost over the amount covered by the NIHB program.

The client is responsible for informing their provider of any other coverage they might have (for example, a work plan) and submitting the claim to that plan before a claim is made to the NIHB Program. Where a Client is no longer eligible for coverage from another payer, the Provider or Client can contact the NIHB Call Centre at Express Scripts Canada (for Providers – 1-888-511-4666, for Clients – 1-888-441-4777) to update their profile.

Clients have two (2) options to seek payment for their exams or eyewear:

  • direct billing through the provider: clients are asked to contact their vision care provider or NIHB regional office in advance of any appointment to confirm that the provider is enrolled with NIHB and will bill the NIHB program directly for the cost of the exam and/or eyewear up to the maximum eligible amount
  • reimbursement to the client: a client may opt to pay the provider directly and seek reimbursement from NIHB for eligible benefits (section 4.4 Payments: Provider claims and client reimbursements) up to the maximum eligible amount

Maximum NIHB-eligible coverage amounts can be found in the Vision Care Regional Fee Grids available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website, or by contacting the NIHB regional office.

4.2 Delivery and shipping policy

The provider should notify the client that they have four (4) months from the time the eyewear is ready for pick up and document their attempts to contact the client in the client's file. In the event that the client does not pick up their eyewear, please refer to Appendix A: Unclaimed eyewear for more information.

In specific circumstances, where the client and provider are not in the same city and are in agreement to ship an item to the client, the provider may request payment for shipping costs (including registered mail) in addition to the client's coverage amount. Request for approval of shipping costs should be included in the request for prior approval.

4.3 Prior approval

Prior approvals are required for all requests and are valid until the end of client's frequency period.

Providers are encouraged to check with the NIHB program to ensure the client has met the frequency guidelines for an eye exam or eyewear (if not, the claim cannot be paid). Providers must obtain prior approval from the NIHB regional office in the province/territory where the service is provided. The regional office will provide a prior approval number for the purpose of billing the claim, which can include the eye exam, the eyewear, or both. A prior approval also informs the provider and the client the total amount of coverage that is available, and can select eyewear accordingly. Providers should contact the NIHB regional office for additional information on the prior approval process.

Clients are encouraged to:

  • contact their NIHB regional office to find out their eligible coverage amount
  • inform the provider if they have coverage under any other plan
  • inform the provider that they are eligible to receive benefits under the NIHB program
  • provide their client identification number
  • ask the provider if the item or service to be provided is fully covered or exceeds the maximum NIHB-eligible coverage rates and if there will be a balance to be paid

4.4 Payments: Provider claims and client reimbursements

In order to be reimbursed, the service or item must be an eligible benefit, and the client must have been eligible at the time the service or item was provided. All claims for reimbursement of eligible goods and services must be received within one (1) year from the date of service. For greater clarity, the date of service for eye exams is the date the client completed the eye exam and the date of service for eye wear is the date the client picked up the eyewear (or the date the Provider shipped the eyewear).

Processing of payments, including provider claims and clients reimbursements, for the NIHB program vision care benefit are done through Express Scripts Canada.

All providers are required to complete a NIHB Vision Care Provider Enrolment Package (available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website) with Express Scripts Canada. The Vision Care Provider Enrolment Package contains the following forms: A mandatory Vision Care Billing Agreement form, and the optional forms, Alternate Mailing Address/Communication Preference Form and Direct Deposit Request Form. Should Express Scripts Canada not receive completed and signed enrolment documents, your claims will not be processed.

After signing a Vision Care Billing Agreement with Express Scripts Canada for the NIHB program, providers are advised to read and retain a copy of the Vision Care Claims Submission Kit located on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website. This kit outlines provider accountability and obligations when submitting claims for payment.

Providers are encouraged to send their claims directly to Express Scripts Canada so that clients do not pay fees at the point of service. For some clients, balance billing and charging up front for services are barriers to accessing vision care services.

For more detailed instructions and forms for client reimbursement, visit the NIHB Client Reimbursement webpage, found on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website. If the client has coverage through a private plan (section 4.5 Coordination of benefits), the client must also include an explanation of benefits (EOB) form from the other plan and a copy of the original receipt (the primary insurer requires the original receipt).

4.5 Coordination of benefits

Clients are required to access any public or private health or provincial/territorial programs for which they are eligible prior to submitting their claim to the NIHB program through Express Scripts Canada. For example, eye examinations may be an insured service under the provincial or territorial health plan based on a client's age or medical condition (in this case, the exam is not a benefit to the client under NIHB). Providers should be aware when a client qualifies for an eye exam under the provincial or territorial health plan.

It is the responsibility of the client to inform the provider if they have coverage through a private plan, such as a group plan. When claiming expenses, having coverage under more than one plan allows clients to use both plans. When an NIHB-eligible client is covered by another plan, claims must be submitted to the other plan first. The other plan will provide an explanation of benefits (EOB) form that must be sent with the claim to Express Scripts Canada.

Clients may use their full NIHB coverage to pay any remaining balance after the other plan has paid. If a client has other insurance, the client's NIHB eligibility is not reduced. Any balance remaining after another plan has paid may be claimed, up to the client's full NIHB eligible amount. If the client has a residual amount, it will be applied to any future eyewear purchases within the same frequency period. See section 3.3.1 Residual amount.

Where a client is no longer eligible for coverage from another payer, the client or provider must contact the NIHB regional office to update the file.

5.0 Appendices

Appendix A: Unclaimed eyewear

A client has four (4) months to pick up their eyewear from the time the eyewear was ready for pick up. Clients must sign the claim form or a separate form, such as the invoice, to indicate they have picked up their eyewear. The provider must document their efforts to communicate with the client, in the client's file. In the event that the client does not pick up their eyewear, the client's coverage amount will be reduced by the cost of unclaimed eyewear, up to the coverage amount. After the 4-month period, the provider has two (2) options to obtain payment:

  1. Where the client has ordered glasses, the provider will dismantle the glasses and invoice the NIHB program only for the lenses and other parts of the glasses which cannot be reused. The frames should go back into the provider's inventory. The lenses must be sent to the regional office. Before the provider can submit a claim to Express Scripts Canada, the provider must contact the regional office to amend the prior approval to unclaimed eyewear. Instead of the client's signature, the provider will indicate that the client did not pick up the glasses within the 4-month time frame, and submit the signed invoice for payment from Express Scripts Canada. The regional office will add a note in the client's file stating that the lenses will be held by the regional office until the client claims them, or the frequency period expires (section 3.2 Corrective eyewear frequency guidelines), whichever comes first. Should the client contact the regional office for the lenses, the regional office will make arrangements to have the lenses sent to an eligible provider to be fit into frames and provided to the client. At that time, the NIHB program (via Express Scripts Canada) will reimburse the provider for the frame for the client's glasses.

    Based on the provider's professional opinion, if the eyewear does not consist of any reusable parts, the second option should be used.

  2. The provider must contact the regional office to amend the prior approval to unclaimed eyewear and mail the glasses or contact lenses to the regional office. The regional office will sign for the eyewear on behalf of the client. The provider will submit an invoice to Express Scripts Canada and be reimbursed for the amount approved. The regional office will add a note in the client's file stating that the eyewear will be held by the regional office until the client claims them, or the frequency period expires (section 3.2 Corrective eyewear frequency guidelines), whichever comes first. Should the client contact the regional office for the eyewear, the regional office will make arrangements to have the eyewear sent to the client or a provider of the client's choice. A note indicating the date that the eyewear was mailed out will be put in the client's file. If the client does not contact the provider within the frequency period, where possible, the eyewear will be sent to a charitable organization for their use.

It is important to note that the NIHB program will not reimburse providers for any costs for eyewear above the approved amount. For additional information, please contact the NIHB regional office in your province or territory.

Appendix B: Contact information - NIHB regional offices

For additional information, please contact the NIHB regional office in your province or territory.

Appendix C: Privacy statement

Indigenous Services Canada's NIHB program has a responsibility to protect personal information under its control in accordance with the Privacy Act and its related Treasury Board privacy policy and directives and is responsible for ensuring the personal information collected is limited to that which is necessary to administer the program.

For more information, please contact Indigenous Services Canada's Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator at 819-997-8277 or aadnc.atiprequest-aiprpdemande.aandc@canada.ca. You also have the right to file a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada if you think your personal information has been handled improperly.

Appendix D: Client eligibility

The provider must verify that the individual is eligible for benefits under Indigenous Services Canada's NIHB program and identify any other benefit coverage available to the client, if applicable.

To be eligible, a client must be a resident of Canada, and one of the following:

  • a First Nations individual who is registered according to the Indian Act (commonly referred to as a "Status Indian")
  • an Inuk recognized by one of the Inuit land claim organizations as outlined in Inuit client eligibility for the NIHB program
  • a child less than 2 years old, whose parent is an NIHB-eligible client

For more information, refer to the web page Who is eligible for the NIHB program or contact the NIHB regional office.

More detailed information about Client Identification and Eligibility can be found in section 4 of the Vision Care Claims Submission Kit, available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website.

Appendix E: Appeal process

A denial of benefit can be appealed by the client or the provider on behalf of the client. For the provider to send in an appeal, an authorization letter signed by the client is required. Note: the items identified as exclusions cannot be appealed. Refer to Appealing a decision under the NIHB program or contact the NIHB regional office for information.

Appendix F: Provider Claim Verification Program (PCVP)

As part of the NIHB program's risk management activities, Indigenous Services Canada has mandated its claims processor to maintain a set of pre-payment and post-payment processes, including claim verification activities.

This function incorporates the review of claims against records to confirm compliance with the terms and conditions of the NIHB program. If under any circumstances it is found that a provider has inappropriately billed the program, claim payments will be recovered; either by direct payment from the provider or withheld from future provider claim statements.

Detailed information about the Provider Claims Verification Program and procedures can be found in section 6 of the Vision Care Claims Submission Kit available on the Express Scripts Canada NIHB provider and client website.

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