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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The eyes have it

Employee Benefit News

By Kathleen Koster

April 5, 2010

As employers strain to emerge from the economic doldrums, vision benefits may come into focus for those who want to keep health care costs down by providing another avenue toward preventive care.

Employers that see the forest for the trees recognize the importance of providing access to routine eye check-ups, while those that don't could find themselves clouded by lost productivity and expensive health care claims. …

The Bibb County Board of Commissioners in Georgia understands first-hand the imperative of offering vision benefits.

"We didn't realize different diseases and potential health issues can be detectedduring a vision exam," says JennyBurdeshaw, Bibb County Board of Commissioners. "However, one of our employees found out he was diabetic when it was detected during hiseyeexam. He wasput on insulin within a week.That experience alone helped us change our thinking,andas a result,we now offer vision benefits to our employees.We want our employees to be healthy, and we believe getting regular eye examsis anotherway tonot only check your visual health, but to check on your overall health." …

"A vision plan tends to be a very highly regarded, yet very low-cost benefit. That's why vision insurance is one of the few products that has actually increased in popularity," says Jeff Spahr, staff vice president of vision and voluntary services at WellPoint.

For the most part, employees want vision benefits, as almost half of consumers without vision benefits are interested in obtaining them, according to Anthem's Specialty Trends Report. Yet, only half of all employers offered access to vision benefits in 2008, and employer contributions are declining, according to the report.

Perhaps if the remaining employers knew that, according to the Vision Council of America, vision disorders account for more than $8 billion in lost productivity, they would be more apt to offer vision benefits. In fact, uncorrected vision can decrease employee productivity by as much as 20%, finds the VCA Vision in Business Report.

VCA also discovered that employers stand to gain as much as $7 for each dollar spent on vision coverage. Further, a quarter of employees surveyed agree that having their vision checked and corrected would increase their productivity at work, reports a WellPoint survey.

Vision benefit plans can also serve as a gateway to employer wellness programs. VSP, for example, estimates they can funnel over 60% of people in vision plans into preventive care.

"You can't start managing people until you get them into preventive care. So, for every dollar that gets spent on eye care services, we're able to return back to an employer increased productivity and medical costs savings of about 94% through increased productivity on the job because they're healthier, lower turnover among those employees and lower overall medical costs," says Melody Healy, director of product strategy and integration at VSP.

Offering vision benefits, or at least making them available for purchase, "is an integral part of prevention," she concludes. "The vision benefit is a very good way of engaging people to start their path to wellness."

High value, high savings

Including vision care in a company's benefit package is a significant aspect in encouraging holistic health care. …

"The eyes are one of the few spots on the body where there is an unobstructed view of the circulatory system. Diseases like diabetes or arterial sclerosis can be picked up through a vision exam," he says. "The sooner that we can get folks into the system, especially with diabetes, where 20% to 30% don't know they have the condition, the greater impact we can have on reduced cost of care and improved quality of life as well." …

In fact, VSPƂ® Vision Care helps save its customers nearly $3 billion annually on health care and human capital costs associated with the treatment of chronic diseases detectable via an eye examination, according to a study undertaken by Human Capital Management Services, Inc. on behalf of VSP.

The study showed that VSP client-companies are realizing these savings for the early detection of diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol in the first year alone, directly related to health plan, disability and employee termination costs. …

Hear no communication, see no benefit

Andy Mechavich, senior manager of compensation and benefits for LECG/SMART, encourages employers to design their vision plans to cover preventive exams at 100% "to entice people to go and get their eyes checked."

Mechavich stresses communicating the advantages of vision care in the context of wellness. Even though 76% of employees are enrolled in their employer's vision benefit, nearly half of U.S. employees with access to a vision benefit through their employer aren't taking advantage of it, finds a recent employee survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Transitions Optical, Inc. …

Further, employees have limited knowledge of what their vision plan can do. Nearly 25% of employees who don't enroll in their plan say it's because they don't have vision or eye health problems. Only 21% of those questioned in the Transitions Optical survey select diagnosing or managing chronic disease as a reason for enrolling.

Likely contributing to the problem is lack of, or sparse, communication about vision benefits. …

Says Spahr: "Everything is in place for employees to use [vision benefits]; it's that gentle nudge from the employer that can really make a difference."

Tips for preventing, reducing computer eye strain

Encouraging vision eye check-ups is especially important in the digital age, when employees are constantly squinting at their Blackberries and working for hours in front of computer screens.

According to the American Optometric Association, nearly 90% of those who use a computer at least three hours a day suffer from vision problems associated with computer eye strain.

Symptoms of computer vision syndrome, according to VSP, include:

Blurred vision or a delay in focusing when shifting focus from the computer screen to objects farther away.

Feeling like there's something in your eyes, or burning/stinging and inflammation.

Eye discomfort.

Headaches.

VSP and AOA offer the following suggestions for mitigating the negative effects of computer eye strain:

Blink often. It washes your eyes in naturally therapeutic tears.

Follow the 20-20-20 rule: At least every 20 minutes, take a break to refocus your eyes by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, minimum.

Keep bright overhead lighting to a minimum. Use blinds and a screen instead to reduce monitor glare. Try to keep lighting off to the side.

Keep your monitor at least 20 inches from your eyes. The center should be about 4 to 6 inches below your eyes.

Enlarge the font size on your PDA or smartphone screen.

Ask your doctor to prescribe a pair of glasses that will make your eyes comfortable for viewing the computer screen.

Get an annual eye exam, letting your doctor know that you work on a computer.