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Making the clear-cut case for adding vision care benefits

by on
in Employee Benefits Program

by Katie Schock

Poor vision and eye disease cost U.S. businesses more than $8 billion a year in lost productivity, and even more in direct health care costs. Plus, there is a significant link between vision and overall health.

Yet only about 17% of employers offer a vision care benefit. Although the cost of the benefit is low—$70 to $80 a year per employee for a premium vision benefit,  compared with $4,256 for medical premiums, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—it’s often among the first to go when organizations cut benefits to save money.

The reason might be that employers misunderstand the value of the annual eye exam. Or they don’t realize that their employees are far less likely to have critical check-ups if they have to bear the full cost on their own.

5 reasons to add vision benefits

There are practical reasons to add vision benefits to your menu of health-related benefits. Here’s why:

1. Vision insurance covers more than eyeglasses and contact lenses. Many employers—and employees—associate the benefit only with vision correction. In fact, an annual trip to the eye doctor can detect all kinds of treatable eye diseases: macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, ocular hypertension, cancer of the eye and even diabetes. Like any disease, catching those ailments early means employees have a better chance of surviving, avoiding blindness, healing and living and working more comfortably and productively. That saves employers money.

2. Your employees want it. In fact, of the 43% of American adults not covered by a managed vision care plan, 63% said they would “probably” or “definitely” sign up for vision care coverage if presented with an opportunity—even if they had to pay a small fee each month. In one survey, 70% of employees said they would trade some vacation time for a vision plan.

3. An aging workforce requires it. Eighty percent of Americans older than 45 need corrective lenses, and an estimated 11 million have uncorrected vision problems, according to the National Eye Institute. As your workforce ages, employees will experience more vision problems and eye diseases. Early detection can reduce sick days and emergency doctor and hospital visits.

4. Today’s work is hard on the eyes. Staring at a computer screen can result in eye strain and fatigue, even for healthy eyes. Routine eyestrain can lead to vision problems.

5. Vision benefits pay off. Even slightly poor vision, left uncorrected, can reduce productivity by up to 20%. Poor vision can also hinder a worker and lower the quality of his or her work.

Coverage considerations

Convinced? If you decide to add a vision benefit, consider this:

  • If you offer vision care as a voluntary benefit, let employees know about it. Employees won’t enroll for voluntary benefits like vision care unless they (1) understand it’s available and (2) appreciate its advantages.
  • Opt for a provider that makes it easy for you and employees to access information about the plan on the web.
  • Limit restrictions on eyeglass frame types. Some eye plans cover all or part of the cost of prescription lenses, but don’t pay for the frames. Consider a benefit that covers at least part of the cost of frames.
  • Make it convenient for employees to get their eye exams. In addition to ophthalmologists, include retail optical chains that sell glasses and offer eye exams. Covered providers should be located close to your facilities.
  • Don’t price contributions out of employees’ reach. Eye care is just as important to retirees, low-wage workers and entry-level Gen Xer’s as it is to high-salaried execs. Make your plan affordable for all.
  • Allow coverage for laser vision correction. Consider the savings over the years on eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Vision insurance is a big benefit with a small up-front cost. It’s the best way to encourage employees to take care of their eyes as a part of their overall health regimen.

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Author: Katie Schock is director of public relations for the Pennsylvania Association for the blind. Contact her at (717) 766-2020.

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