Everyone knows healthier employees are more productive employees, and focusing on wellness can help achieve that goal. But there are two things vital to us all missing from the equation: vision and hearing.

Forty million Americans have hearing loss today — making it the No.1 disability in the country — but “we don’t even talk about it,” said Tristan Walker, east coast sales manager of EPIC Hearing Healthcare.

At the same time, nearly three-quarters (70%) of the workforce needs vision correction, with younger employees (ages 18-44) more likely to say their work quality is frequently impacted by visual disturbances. 

Also see: “The top 10 large-group vision carriers in the U.S.”

Despite such statistics, Walker on Thursday asked the audience at the Leadership Summit on Voluntary & Ancillary

Benefits Programs who has had their primary doctor ask about their hearing or vision. Just one hand went up. Primary care physicians are not asking these questions, he said, because they are dealing with so many other questions.

There are many things that could benefit employees and employers that are not being paid attention to in the primary care field, Walker said, calling it a “growing epidemic.”

Also see: “Wellness metrics moving beyond health care costs.”

The cost issue

Johns Hopkins research found that people with untreated or mild hearing loss have a 40% faster cognitive decline and reduced job performance.

Despite such documented issues, part of the problem in addressing them lies in the fact that hearing care is the “wild, wild, west,” with no fee schedules and providers who can charge whatever they want, Walker said. For example, one hearing aid averages about $4,000, but only costs the provider $150, he said. “They are marking it up because there are no codes for testing,” Walker said, adding 85% of the population who need hearing aids need two of them.

It is the same story with vision. One dollar invested in eye care leads to a $1.45 return on investment, as eyes are the window to the body and can often help uncover other diseases early as well.

To overcome these challenges, Walker said voluntary products are the answer, and employees — especially younger ones — are interested in them as a solution, Walker said.

Also see: “Brokers in the power seat with voluntary benefits.”

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