Popular vision benefits moving beyond ‘commodity product’ label

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For the average working-class American, vision is one of the top three most desired benefits when considering whether or not to accept a position with a company, next to affordable healthcare and dental benefits. More than half of employees say vision is an essential benefit — especially those faced with limited funds, according to MetLife’s 2017 Employee Benefit Trends Study. Yet, despite this large demand for vision benefits, only half of employers offer such an option.

A growing number of employers are taking a more holistic view of the product, a trend that may fix that inequity between demand and supply. “Before it was always considered on its own and the larger carriers are trying to tie it into overall health,” says Rosemary Hughes, principal at EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants.

Hughes’ take is supported in a recent study by HCMS Group, a human capital risk management firm that analyzes data to help employers reduce waste in health benefits. It revealed eye exams provide preventative measures to help employees with their overall healthcare. In fact, individuals who receive an annual comprehensive eye exam are more likely to enter the healthcare system earlier for treatment of serious health conditions, thereby significantly reducing their long-term cost of care, HCMS found.

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“A lot of the carriers are now packaging [health, dental and vision] all together saying, ‘These are all aspects of safety and preventative [treatment] and employers need to have a well-rounded offering to prevent productivity loss,’” Hughes says.

Measurable ROI
Employers who offer their employees vision benefits experience $5.8 billion in cost savings over four years due to avoiding productivity loss, reduced healthcare cost and lower turnover rates, according to HCMS.

“To a certain extent, people look at vision as a commodity product,” says Monica Digon, chief client officer at brokerage Selden Beattie. “Those carriers that are trying to be more progressive are actually building in wellness funds for employers who elect to offer a vision benefit to ensure that the benefit and vision in general becomes an important component to any type of population health or wellness initiatives that are occurring.”

For every dollar invested in a comprehensive eye exam, HCMS found that employers saw a $1.45 return on investment through lower healthcare costs, improved employee productivity and lower turnover rates.

“With healthcare costs increasing by 89% in the past 10 years and employer uncertainty surrounding impact of the ACA, identifying benefits that provide a positive return on investment is more critical to companies than ever, says Jim McGrann, former CEO of VSP Vision Care, whose member population was analyzed in the HCMS study. “The study confirmed that employees’ access to a standalone vision benefit provides a first line of defense in identifying and managing conditions that are straining our healthcare system and employers’ bottom lines.”

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