Providing annual eye exams for group health plan enrollees can help detect costly chronic medical problems early.

Marketers at Vision Service Plan Inc., Rancho Cordoba, Calif., have released that finding in a summary of results from an analysis of its own customers’ group health experience.

VSP hired an outside firm to client employers’ claims.

Firm researchers assembled 2 years of data for 5 large commercial clients with 90,000 health plan enrollees. The researchers then compared the claims of patients with chronic conditions identified during regular, VSP-provided eye exams and the claims of patients with chronic conditions whose conditions were identified via ordinary medical exams.

The researchers found that the eye exams helped save money by leading to early detection of more than 1,000 cases of diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, VSP says.

Every dollar spent on VSP exam services helped employers avoid about 94 cents in medical-related costs, and the exams led to $2,900 in annual condition management savings for each case of diabetes that was detected early, VSP says.

About 20% of VSP plan enrollees with diabetes found out that they had diabetes while they were receiving a VSP-covered eye exam, and about 30% of VSP plan enrollees with hypertension learned that they needed treatment for hypertension while receiving a VSP-covered eye exam, VSP says.