By Daniel Levy
In the past, vision care benefits used to be a “nice-to-have” that employers included as part of their overall employee benefits package. A lot has changed since then with vision now being as prominent as medical and dental insurance. This is largely due to vision playing an important role in overall preventive care, and the perception among employees that it is a highly valuable insurance benefit.
There is also an old proverb that underscores the importance of an eye exam – the eyes are the window to a whole body. A simple dilated eye exam not only provides information about an individual’s eye health but can also detect more than 30 systemic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune disorders, among others. As a result, it is critical employers promote annual eye exams among their workforce, which could potentially help detect a bigger health issue.
According to Guardian Life’s 7th Annual Workplace Benefits Study titled, “Coming Into Focus: The Role of Vision Benefits and Eye Care in Health & Wellness,” interest in vision benefits is generally consistent across generations and life stages. Workers of all ages appreciate the lower out-of-pocket costs for exams and corrective eyewear, and the convenience of access through their employer. Roughly seven in ten millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers consider vision coverage to be a valuable employee benefit. Additionally, four in 10 workers who do not have a vision plan say they would enroll if their employer made it available.
Over the course of the years, vision care benefits have evolved to meet the needs of the consumer and to account for the new technology changing how we deliver and manage care. Below are some notable trends:
- Meeting Consumer Expectations: We continue to see a move toward making sure the co-pays for Medical and Vision plans are the same (i.e. $10 co-pay for a primary care physician visit is the same as a $10 co-pay for an eye exam). Levelling the playing field on the co-pay is more likely to incentivize employees to visit an optometrist for an annual eye exam. Higher material allowances are also increasing – the standard used to be $130, and carriers are now seeing more requests for allowances, such as a $250 covered allowance.
- Telemedicine – Vision on the Go: Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth, continues to be a hot topic in the industry. Today’s technology is making it possible to reduce patient wait times, provide access to eye care in rural, remote areas, and to help patients with diseases like diabetes in which non-mydriatic cameras are used to perform retinal screenings. Portable high-tech equipment is making it possible for optometrists to perform an eye test using a hand-held device that sends the results to a mobile phone or iPad. Within minutes, a person can find out whether they need glasses or need to change their prescription. This, alone, makes it possible for employers to potentially bring this type of service to the workplace in an effort to promote preventive eye care.
- Eye Health: Our study revealed that U.S. workers reported they spend an average of 11.8 hours per day looking at computers, phones, tablets, televisions, video games, and other electronic devices. This places an emphasis on the need to educate American workers about steps they can take to practice good vision hygiene, including regular eye exams, updating corrective eyewear prescriptions, and wearing lenses while looking at screens that protect eyes from blue and ultraviolet rays. For example, we’re beginning to see more gaming and computer eyewear hit the market in an effort to help alleviate digital eye strain and promote eye health.
- Online Market is Growing: The accessibility of eye wear continues to expand with more consumers choosing to purchase prescription glasses online. This trend is expected to continue with new competitors hitting the marketplace along with vision carriers focused on expanding their own online options. Despite this growth, we still encourage consumers to get a comprehensive eye exam in person to ensure they are getting the correct diagnosis and prescription from an eye professional.
Workplace Vision Health
Our study found adults with vision plans are twice as likely to have regular eye exams (65% vs. 32%) than those without the benefit. While seven in 10 employers offer these benefits, certain segments of the workforce are less likely to have coverage, such as those who work for smaller firms, the hospitality industry, and lower earning industries (income of less than $50,000 per year). Not having access to a vision plan can lead individuals to skip regular eye exams, and neglected eye health can lead to vision damage and problems. Research has shown a connection between vision health and work productivity, with even minor vision issues causing reduced worker productivity by up to 20%. This is important to point out for brokers who are educating their clients about the importance of a comprehensive vision plan.
Lastly, it is well known that vision benefits help mitigate the out-of-pocket costs associated with exams, corrective eyewear, and blue block lens technology, which workers of all ages appreciate having access to through their employers. As more jobs require their employees to use screens, the nation’s eye health will continue to be impacted, making it more important than ever for brokers to educate employers about promoting regular eye exams among their workforce.
Daniel Levy, OD, CPHM is chief optometric officer for The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.