by Sara Niemeyer

The rise of consumerism has transformed how employers and employees see their insurance benefits. Many employees have been accustomed to choosing among similar plans at similar price points from year to year. But drastic changes have forced them to look at their options more carefully. Employees are more receptive to learning about their benefit choices, which can produce a healthier workforce.

But, with so many changes and choices, it can be hard to maintain a focus on voluntary benefits during enrollment conversations. Overlooking high-value plans, like vision, can create big problems. Vision coverage ties closely to employee satisfaction. Also, the better you can see, the more efficient you are at work. Almost 80% of employees encounter at least one visual disturbance at work, and more than half take daily breaks to compensate, according to the Transitions Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits survey. Visual discomfort can also affect the quality of their work. Catching vision problems early is more likely to happen when employees get regular eye exams. This enables employees to take preventive measures before health issues lead to absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Vision is also tied to health concerns that can impede productivity and increase employer costs. For example, diabetes is the number-one cost driver for three out of the four employers I advise. Having a quality vision offering that covers dilation during the exam can aid in the early detection of health issues like diabetes and hypertension.

When healthcare reform was first being implemented, some speculated that medical carriers would offer more vision coverage. But many still don’t cover exams with dilation. The upside to having a separate vision carrier is that employees get more coverage options as well as regular dilated eye exams. Eyewear technology has come a long way, and consumers want more choices than a standard lens and basic frame. As a result, many employees choose a high-quality vision plan over a basic plan. They get a lot more bang for their buck since the cost difference is not usually significant on a per-paycheck basis. Having access to vision-correction options also increases productivity. Many of the most common vision-related complaints can be alleviated by wearing the right eyewear including an updated prescription and lens enhancements, like antireflective coatings and photochromic lenses to increase comfort and reduce visual disturbances.

We’ve launched quite a few vision products in the past couple of years, and found that employers can be hesitant before they understand the value of these benefits. But it’s often surprising to employers how many employees purchase the benefit.

Here are some ways to ensure that vision coverage stays in sight during enrollment:

• Use real life scenarios: Many of our manufacturing clients have employees who really depend on their eyesight to do their jobs. But there aren’t many professions that do not rely on clear vision. A good way to start the conversation is to explain how vision is important in the workplace.
• Crunch the numbers: I encourage employers, if possible, to sponsor the vision benefits instead of making them voluntary because it provides such an essential value to employees. The average employer will see a return of $7 for every $1 invested in vision benefits, according to the Vision Council. Employees place a high value on vision benefits. A vision plan can be an inexpensive, yet valuable addition to the healthcare plan. Employees are usually willing to spend $5 to $10 a month for a single vision plan, and $15 to $19 a month for a family vision plan, according to employee research by USI Insurance Services, LLC.
• Underscore education: An important first step is to select a plan that provides broad materials coverage, a large list of providers and competitive discounts. Making sure that employees know what’s included and how their plan works affects the success of a vision offering, but this step is often overlooked.
• Emphasize extras: Patients have become are more active consumers. They’re familiar with brand-name health products, and they weigh price against value. In addition, 86% of employees and their dependents wear eyeglasses and/or contacts, meaning that they probably have some familiarity with vision products, according to the USI survey. Employees want to know whether the plan covers high-profile brands like Transitions lenses. Brand-loyal employees may even base their decisions about plans on which brands are covered.
• Align with leaders: Not all plans are designed with current trends in mind. For example, many patients want to be able to purchase eyeglasses and contacts in the same year, have more choices in designer frames, or have multiple pairs of glasses to meet different needs. Employees feel more in control when they have access to different plan and reimbursement levels.
• Demonstrate the need: If one of our clients is open to exploring vision benefits, we survey employees to let their voices be heard during enrollment and renewals. Employers are often surprised at how strongly their employees want a vision plan. Many employers assume that vision discount programs through dental or medical plans will meet their employees’ needs. But we often find that employees would much rather have a full vision offering through their employer than a discount through another benefit plan. Fifty-eight percent of employees prefer a full vision plan over only having a discount, according to USI the survey.
• Call on experts: We have a staff wellness consultant who visits clients once a year to explore health concerns and explain how their insurance benefits can address these issues. When discussing vision benefits, an expert can help give credence to the correlation between eye health and overall health, and how hot-button issues like diabetic health come into play.
• Provide information that employees can refer back to: We typically start with an onsite review of benefits and follow up with a pre-recorded presentation that employees can watch at their convenience. During the presentation, we demonstrate the value of the benefit by explaining covered materials, buy-ups and purchasing scenarios. We also include information about how the plan is designed. Employers can refer back to this information when employees have questions later in the year.

A vision plan used to be an afterthought to medical benefits. But vision coverage is moving off the back burner to become more of a core benefit. Employers who want to take a more innovative approach to employee wellness should look at vision coverage with fresh eyes during this year’s enrollment season.


Sara Niemeyer is a consultant for USI Insurance Services, LLC in Cincinnati. With more than 4,000 employees in more than 140 offices nationwide, USI is among the top 10 largest insurance brokers in the U.S. Sara was named Transitions Vision Benefits Broker of the Year for 2013 for her work encouraging healthy sight through education and superior vision care benefit offerings through vision benefits partner, EyeMed Vision Care.