Glass more than half full – the growing power of vision benefits

Vision benefits not only help employees see, they can also offer early diagnosis of numerous conditions, and will soon cover wearable technologies such as Google Glass says VSP Vision Care managing director, EMEA Jeremy Chadwick

As we look at the future of employer-led healthcare in the UK and how benefit choices fit into long-term solutions for managing related costs, eye care should be an important part of any strategy. Vision benefits have long been thought of as a way to provide value for employees who need glasses or contact lenses and to satisfy duties of care such as VDU obligations. But an eye exam offers so much more toward developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles, especially when you consider that employees are more likely to get an eye examination than they are a health screening or routine physical with their general practitioner.

A recent study conducted by HCMS Group showed that people who have regular eye exams are more likely to get earlier identification of and treatment for serious health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, primarily because a thorough eye exam provides the only non-invasive view of our body’s blood vessels. Studies have also shown that eye care practitioners are the first to detect signs of diabetes 34 per cent of the time, high blood pressure 39 per cent of the time, and high cholesterol 62 per cent of the time.

Diabetes alone can be detected in an eye exam up to seven years prior to other typical detection channels. When we consider that more than 500,000 working days are lost every year in the UK as a result of this disease, vision benefits come into focus as a low-cost and effective way to increase productivity and employee engagement. This is especially resonant, considering that diabetes is expected to affect more than 20 per cent of the population by 2025. And when you add the decreased productivity impact, the number of lost working days increases even more.

Given the health benefits tied to eye exams and integrated comprehensive vision care programmes, employers should consider the additional value a dedicated vision benefit adds to their health coverage scheme—above and beyond providing for needed eyewear. While there are currently voucher options available to provide for benefits like VDU, comprehensive eye health remains a gap for most workers, especially for those who don’t have access to the care provided by National Health Service.

When it comes to incorporating a vision scheme into benefit packages, there are several things to consider. First, the benefit needs to be simple to understand and easy to use. One way this is accomplished is through limiting out-of-pocket costs, such as excesses, top-ups and co-pays. Paying for costs upfront and then hassling with reimbursements later creates a barrier for employees to access the regular eye care they need.

Glasses, contact lenses and laser eye surgery should be included in the coverage with an adequate allowance limit. Not only does comprehensive dedicated coverage assist those who need corrective eyewear, it also serves as a motivator for everyone to get regular eye exams which supports overall health.

Another important part of health care and vision benefits is data. Knowledge about how people are using their eye care benefits, what disease states are being discovered, and what the return is on investment will help customize wellness and healthcare programmes for each employer.

Technology will also continue to expand the potential of both eyewear and eye care. A vision benefit can be leveraged to incorporate lens and frame coverage for the growing market of wearable technologies, like Google Glass.

Choice of provider is another important consideration to ensure employees have access to the eye care provider that meets their unique comprehensive eye care needs.

Dedicated comprehensive vision care schemes represent a new opportunity to re-shape and customize the future of corporate healthcare. Innovative products and integrated data are an essential part of making healthcare and technology adaptable for each market. Employers should make sure both are considered as part of their benefit strategy.

Looking forward, eye care is a critical part of the health care landscape. Eye care plans reduce health costs, improve employee productivity and quality of life.  When fully integrated into the benefit schemes of UK companies, the future will be brighter than ever for everyone.