Why Vision Insurance Is Crucial To Personal Maintenance –  And Why Employers Should Care

by J. Keith Pellerin

Americans spend a lot of money on personal care. In fact, many don’t want to think about the annual tab for trips to the hair salon, manicures and pedicures, spa visits, facials and even tanning sessions. Yet for all the pampering and preening going on, they often skip one of the most important self-maintenance tasks of all: an annual eye exam.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even people with eyesight problems routinely forego vision checkups. In a study of more than 11,000  people age 40 and over with moderate-to-severe visual impairment, almost 35% said they didn’t seek care because they felt they didn’t need it while 4.5% said they could not get an appointment. The majority, 39%, said they hadn’t had an eye appointment in the previous year due to cost or lack of insurance.

What’s most surprising about the CDC’s findings is that people skip eye exams – even people with documented eye problems – despite the fact that they’re frightened of losing their vision: 79% of participants in a Surge Research survey said that other than their own death or the death of a loved one, losing their eyesight was the worst thing that could happen to them.

Where do employers fit in? A University of South Carolina study determined people with vision insurance were more likely to have periodic eye examinations and, on average, had better vision than those who had not had checkups. According to USC’s researchers, the findings highlight the long-term benefits of vision insurance for preventing eyesight problems.

Employers and Vision Insurance

Many U.S. workers purchase vision insurance through their employers, and some might not even consider obtaining coverage if it was not made available through their companies’ health-care plans. It’s clear that employees benefit from vision insurance because it helps absorb the costs of check-ups, glasses and contact lenses, but what do employers gain by providing access to such plans?

First, by encouraging workers to schedule regular eye exams – and by providing access to vision insurance that makes them more likely to do so – employers reduce the risk of on-the-job accidents. Eye exams can help pinpoint reduced or impaired vision, problems focusing at various distances, peripheral-vision concerns, depth-perception issues, and even sensitivity to glare. They can also identify cataracts and retinal disorders. All of these issues, if undetected, may increase the likelihood of workplace mishaps and open companies to potential lawsuits.

Just as importantly, companies that offer vision insurance to employees may benefit from increased worker goodwill. According to the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report, employers that provide access to a wide range of benefits signal that they care about their workers. In today’s economy, caring is a precious commodity: Workers with voluntary benefits are more likely to believe their companies are known as great places to work and have reputations for taking care of employees.

What’s more, 59% of workers who participated in the Aflac survey said they’d choose a job with robust benefits over a job with a slightly higher salary. That’s not to say that the average employee would turn down a generous raise. It simply shows that workers are concerned that their families might be underinsured and under-protected and are looking to their employers for solutions.

During the depths of the recession, as positions were cut and new ones were hard to come by, many workers made conscious decisions to remain in their current jobs until the financial skies began to clear. Now, as the economy gets moving again, many are polishing their resumes and looking for new opportunities.

Smart employers are identifying low-cost ways not only to combat turnover, but also to pluck the best and brightest new workers from a stream of job applicants. The Aflac survey showed that offering benefits have a major impact on the success or failure of worker retention efforts, meaning employees are less likely to spend their off-hours scouring job-search sites if their companies demonstrate concern for their welfare.

One cost-conscious way employers can show they’re interested in worker well-being is by providing access to voluntary health insurance benefits, including vision insurance. Sixty percent of employees whose companies provide such access told Aflac they’re not likely to look for new jobs within the next year.

The good news for businesses is that voluntary insurance premiums are worker-paid. That mean that companies can make plans available to employees with no direct effect on their organizations’ bottom lines. At the same time, workers can select from a menu of benefits and premiums and enroll in the options that best meet their needs and budgets.

Making Eye Care More Affordable

Eye exams can be expensive, and the cost of frames and lenses, contact lenses and treatment of eye disorders is daunting. That’s why vision insurance is so important to American workers and their families. It’s important for employers to critically examine the vision coverage they offer to workers or are considering adding to their health-care menus. Many vision plans offer nothing beyond discounted services and basic coverage within a small provider network. Wise employers will look for policies that provide basic benefits, such as eye exams, prescription glasses and contact lenses and, depending upon the state and policy selected, other benefits such as coverage for eye disorders and diseases, eye surgery, and even permanent vision impairment. q


J. Keith Pellerin, a 27-year financial and insurance industries veteran, is Aflac’s vice president of Product Management and Innovation. He oversees product strategy, development, design and implementation including competitive intelligence. Visit aflac.com; call 888-861-0251; or e-mail addbenefits@aflac.com to learn more.