Vision benefits: Eyes on the bigger picture – Jeremy Chadwick

Jeremy Chadwick, VSP Vision Care
Jeremy Chadwick, VSP Vision Care

A workforce that can see properly is just part of the return on investment from vision benefits says Jeremy Chadwick, managing director of VSP Vision Care (EMEA)

Calculating return on investment has become a major HR focus, sometimes even resulting in a delay to benefit buying decisions. Measuring ROI can be very difficult and often companies do not know whether their healthcare benefit and wellness initiatives are actually paying back.

There is no doubt that coming up with an accurate ROI number for a new healthcare benefit investment across a large workforce is complex. The budget spend numbers alone are scary, never mind the detailed calculations. When one starts trying to work out savings on disability, early retiree costs, workplace adaptations and group life costs, alongside productivity gains, medical costs, employee absenteeism and turnover rates, it becomes particularly difficult.

It may be tempting to conclude it is easier and safer for HR to either do nothing new or follow the trends in the market. I often hear clients ask what their biggest competitor is doing and then use that as a way to get approval for new investment. EB advisers may experience this kind of conversation too and, while giving your client non-confidential market intelligence is useful, being able to explain a new, more modern approach that will get them ahead of the crowd is much more valuable.

I see this mindset often when working with clients to move them forward from a traditional VDU plan to a more thorough and higher-quality vision care benefit. Despite the important benefits this can bring to organisations – such as early detection of emergent diabetes, higher productivity through better vision and cash savings for employees on essential eyewear – it is easy to lose sight of the overall picture.

With an independently assessed study in the US showing an ROI of 145 per cent, there is no doubt a properly executed comprehensive vision plan is a source of ROI for firms. The HCMS study on behalf of VSP conducted in 2013 found that employers could help manage absentee costs through preventive benefits such as vision care. When an employer invested in a comprehensive eye exam, they saw an ROI through lower healthcare costs, better employee productivity and lower turnover rates. This makes sense, with 500,000 working days lost each year in the UK as a result
of diabetes and 4.5 million days lost through heart- and blood pressure-related conditions.

When the HCMS study findings are applied to disease prevalence rates in the UK and then adjusted to include only savings associated with improved employee productivity and lower turnover rates, the potential cost savings are estimated at £85,176 per 1,000 employees over four years, resulting from early diagnosis of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The HCMS study also found that those who had a chronic condition identified through an eye exam needed less medication to manage their condition, and were up to 27 per cent less likely to make emergency room visits and up to 24 per cent less likely to have hospital admissions versus patients who had diseases detected by another healthcare provider.

The more forward-thinking companies are a lot further down the road in implementing this kind of benefit. Seeing the big picture, and having the leadership confidence to try something new, is an important part of advancing wellness initiatives and strengthening one’s benefit offering. As the fight for talent heats up further in a tightening labour market, driving maximum value from the workforce and retaining employees for as long as possible becomes essential.

It is important to be proactive rather than responsive when implementing healthcare benefits, and to view them as an investment rather than a cost issue. Firms that take this approach and look for a full vision benefit programme as a core part of healthcare screening will also benefit from wellness data gathering, employee engagement and productivity management.

Clearly ROI matters, but HR leaders should not use it as an excuse for inaction. Studies have shown that vision benefits have a clear ROI and this should give HR decision-makers the confidence to make positive changes that are meaningful to their workforce and, at the same time, support their business objectives.