By Scott Towers
Winter is approaching and it may just be time to bundle up! While Californians don’t have to worry about digging out their hats and scarves, bundling up on medical and specialty benefits can help to boost employee enrollment. In fact, medical, dental and vision benefits rank as the top three popular benefits elections according to the 2018 Transitions Optical Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits survey.
While medical coverage is a fairly standard offering for most employers, access to dental and vision benefits are highly sought after and can provide high returns-on-investment at a relatively low cost. Offering vision and dental benefits can even help to increase employee attraction and retention. A 2018 consumer survey conducted by Anthem, Inc., examined the effects of specialty benefits—like vision, dental, disability, life insurance, etc. —on job satisfaction and found that employees consider vision (62 percent of respondents) and dental (73 percent of respondents) benefits as “must haves” when evaluating job offers. Furthermore, employee job satisfaction increases by 5 percent for each added specialty benefit. Beyond this, there are other advantages to offering and encouraging employee enrollment in vision and dental benefits. For example, both vision- and dental-health are linked to an employee’s overall health—and a healthier, happier workforce is a more productive workforce.
Vision and Dental: Benefits that Improve Overall Health
Aside from general medical/health benefits, vision and dental benefits remain the top two voluntary benefits in terms of employee enrollment; 76 percent of employees reported that they are enrolled in vision plans and 86 percent are enrolled in dental plans. Vision and dental are both major players in the benefits field, so simply offering them as part of a package allows employers to remain competitive and attractive to new and potential talent. In addition, when these benefits are offered through the same insurer with an integrated network, like Anthem Whole Health Connection offered by Anthem Blue Cross, providers are able to access the health data for their patients which allows them to form actionable insights that provide better care and better health. For example, 91 percent of vision care providers indicated that they could provide better care if they understood the clinical profile of their patients, according to a 2012 Anthem Provider Survey.
But while integration and offering these benefits are critical, education is still needed on behalf of employers when it comes to encouraging employees to enroll in and utilize any benefit. Anthem’s consumer survey found that 71 percent of those who are enrolled in a vision plan use their benefits once a year and 47 percent of men avoid eye exams until they “really need one” vs 30 percent for women. Similarly, only 64 percent of employees use their dental benefits once every 6 months and 50 percent of men avoid going to the dentist until they “really need one” vs 44 percent for women.
This is alarming—considering early detection and treatment of both eye health and dental health issues can mean better overall health and fewer medical costs for both employers and employees. Looking at the impact of vision care specifically, more than 10 million Americans have undiagnosed eye conditions or vision problems that could potentially lead to visual impairment, vision loss and/or increased medical costs, according to the Vision Council. Additionally, it’s estimated that the total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. to be $139 billion, according to a 2013 report from Prevent Blindness America. Furthermore, many of the most common eye conditions or diseases—including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration—have little or no early warning signs making routine eye exams critical. Not everyone needs vision correction and that can be misleading to younger employees, who may not believe they are at risk for sight-stealing eye diseases. But healthy vision goes beyond having 20/20 vision and routine eye exams are important for everyone—especially for those who have a family history of certain conditions. This is imperative for those who have or who are at risk for diabetes, as signs of the disease can be seen in the eye in its earliest stages.
Much like comprehensive eye exams, regular visits to the dentist go beyond routine cleanings—serving as an initial step toward diagnosing many oral conditions and diseases. According to the American Dental Association, gingivitis, periodontitis, cavities and other oral conditions can be spotted and treated through regular visits to the dentist. And similar to how routine eye exams can detect overall health issues such as diabetes and cardiovascular issues, many medical conditions (over 120!) first produce signs and symptoms in the mouth, which can be identified during oral exams, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. For this reason, regular visits to the dentist are critical to promote overall wellness, as well as to aid in the early detection and management of chronic or potentially serious illnesses.
How Consolidating Companies and Bundling Up May Boost Enrollment
It’s not a secret that offering both comprehensive vision and dental benefits plans are an important step toward making sure employers have what they need to keep employees healthier, happier and more productive. By consolidating these benefits with the same company that offers their healthcare plan, 9 out of 10 employees who were not already enrolled in a vision benefits plan say they’d be more likely to enroll, according to the 2018 Transitions Optical survey. There are many resources that brokers can offer to help employers educate employees on the importance of vision and dental benefits—and help them further understand how enrolling in a plan offered by the same company as their health benefits can help ease the cost of seeing the eye doctor or dentist.
Transitions Optical, for example, offers calculators for both employers and employees to determine the savings possible through premium vision benefits. These calculators can be found at HealthySightWorkingForYou.org. The American Dental Association also offers education and resources through MouthHealthy.org, including a symptom checker to help identify possible conditions, treatments and actions that people can take to make informed decisions about their oral health.
There is a great need and opportunity to increase employee enrollment in both vision benefits and dental benefits and offering them through the same company as their health benefits could be a great way to do this. Anthem Blue Cross offers both standalone vision and dental benefits, as well as overall health insurance. These benefits all work seamlessly through Anthem’s integrated healthcare solution, Anthem Whole Health Connection®, to give physicians, dentists, optometrists, and care managers access to real-time patient information. When care providers work together, health care works better and problems can be identified earlier leading to improved patient health.
Additionally, maintaining good eye, oral and overall health can help employees stay productive while controlling medical costs. By bundling these benefits together under one health insurer, employees are able to simplify their enrollment and billing, improve the coordination of care for their benefits, and also experience a measurable impact on their overall job satisfaction leading to a happier and healthier workforce.
Scott Towers is president of Anthem, Inc.’s vision and dental divisions.