Employers Failing to See Benefits of Vision Coverage

By Ladan Nikravan

May. 7, 2014

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

Jim McGrann has happy clients, but at the end of the day, they still say the same thing.

“Every time I meet with them they say, ‘We love working with VSP,’ ” said McGrann, president of VSP Vision Care, but they add, “ ‘You’re just vision.’ ”

McGrann, whose organization is the largest U.S. nonprofit vision benefits and services company with 64 million members, said too often people don’t see vision care through the same lens as dental and health care benefits. Reinforcing that notion, adult vision care and prescription eyeglasses are not among the essential benefits required under the Affordable Care Act.

In the exchanges and the individual and small-employer markets, dental and vision insurance are generally required for those under the age of 19, though the requirement does not apply to employers with 50 or more employees.

‘Vision coverage can help identify diseases earlier, enabling people to obtain appropriate treatment sooner and take steps to better manage their disease.’

—Philip Kaufman, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Vision

Further, McGrann said vision care is too often synonymous with glasses.

A study released in February by consultancy HCMS Group found that eye doctors are the first to identify signs in patients of diabetes 34 percent of the time, high blood pressure 39 percent of the time and high cholesterol 62 percent of the time. Findings also stated that for every dollar that’s invested in a thorough eye exam, employers saw a $1.45 return on investment.

“The data is clear: Vision coverage can help identify diseases earlier, enabling people to obtain appropriate treatment sooner and take steps to better manage their disease,” said Philip Kaufman, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Vision. “By doing that, employees can stay at work or get back to work sooner.”

McGrann said that workers are often unaware of vision care’s importance.

“There’s often a lack of knowledge around what an optometrist does,” he said. “People don’t associate them with the kind of health medical insurance covers and often see it more as a ‘nice-to-have.’ ”

Beth Grellner, co-leader of the national voluntary benefits practice for Towers Watson & Co., said patients assume that if there is a problem with their blood pressure, cholesterol or signs of diabetes, their medical doctors will catch it. And because that appointment is likely to be covered by insurance, people are more likely to take advantage of it.

Still, Grellner said a shift might be coming. “Health care reform is causing employers to consider some pretty major changes to their medical plans. Part of that might mean reducing the amount of coverage the medical plan offers and looking for other, lower-cost ways to increase the benefits they offer to employees,” she said.

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