New eye health benefit caters to pregnant, expecting women

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The eyes aren’t exempt from the bodily changes brought on by pregnancy. That’s why benefit provider UnitedHealthcare decided to upgrade their vision offerings for new and expectant mothers.

Under the plan changes, women expecting a child qualify for a second annual eye exam. These women can also receive a new pair of glasses if their prescription changes by 0.5 diopter or more during pregnancy; UnitedHealthcare absorbs the cost of new glasses for these patients. Employers offering vision benefits through UnitedHealthcare are automatically participating in the vision plan upgrade at no additional charge.

“Until now, benefit plans haven’t taken into account that women’s eyes can change during pregnancy,” says John D. Ryan, general manager of United Healthcare Vision. “We saw an opportunity to offer more holistic benefits.”

Pregnancy can temporarily change women’s vision, but their eyes can also be permanently damaged from delivery complications and preexisting conditions that are exacerbated by gestation, according to UnitedHealthcare’s medical staff. They recommend pregnant women have their eyes examined before and after delivery. Since most vision benefits only cover one annual visit, pregnant women would need to pay out-of-pocket to address their eye health.

“An estimated one in six women experience complications associated with their pregnancy, including vision-related issues ranging from mild discomfort to vision loss,” says Dr. Anne Docimo, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare. “Introducing this benefit is designed to encourage expectant and new moms to access eye exams that could help detect potential vision issues, which in some cases may pose health challenges for the mother or baby.”

Dr. Scott Edmonds, chief eye care officer at UnitedHealthcare, says many women experience temporary vision changes during pregnancy because hormones cause the fluid in their corneas, or lens, to shift and change shape. When that happens, current eyewear prescriptions will no longer work. But women can get a new prescription under UnitedHealthcare’s new vision policy to adapt to pregnancy changes.

“Their vision may go back to normal after delivery, but they may not see very well until then,” Edmonds says. “They should keep their old glasses and contacts in case the changes turn out to be temporary.”

Edmonds believes employers should be interested in adopting benefits that improve the quality of life of their workers and dependents, regardless if the medical issue is temporary. He says employers who fail to address the vision concerns of pregnant employees will ultimately hurt the company’s bottom line.

“If women aren’t seeing well then they’re not going to be productive at work,” Edmonds says. “It’s critical to address eye health, especially since so many of us work with computers.”

UnitedHealthcare executives hope the new benefits will prevent more serious eye complications. Women with preexisting conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes risk retina damage during pregnancy, which can lead to serious problems like spotted vision and blindness.

“You never know if the problem is going to be temporary or if it’s from a more serious medical condition until you look,” Edmonds says. “Pregnant women on a fixed budget aren’t likely to get their eyes checked again because they’ll have to pay out-of-pocket. Addressing this issue is long overdue.”

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