A patient getting an eye exam (Credit: Shutterstock)

Open enrollment season typically refers to the four-to-six-week period every fall when employees can select their employer-sponsored health and life insurance benefits for the next year.

However, group health decision-makers start considering open enrollment long before that timeframe. In fact, while 2020 feels like it’s just getting off to a start, many group health leaders are already beginning to think about benefit offerings for the 2021 open enrollment season.

It is through this process that health insurance brokers and benefits managers collaborate to take on the difficult — but critical and necessary — task of becoming champions of health for the employees they represent by thoroughly scrutinizing group health plan offerings.

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And for good reason. Over the past decade, it has become clear that the right health benefits not only enable employees’ access to care, but also drive human capital for employers — including retention — as businesses more frequently use benefits to compete for rising talent.

Within this process, vision insurance is, often, viewed as a commodity — overlooked and undervalued, in favor of time spent on specialty voluntary benefits, like legal insurance. While those extra benefits are certainly useful, it’s important to be clear that vision care is, in fact, preventative care, and managed vision care is specialty insurance that can mean the difference between employees getting treatment for a condition and going undiagnosed for far too long.

The Benefit of Managed Vision Care

Vision benefits are not just about helping employees obtain a new pair of glasses every two years. Managed vision care as preventative care is the most cost-effective, least-invasive method of connecting the dots between eye health and overall wellness.

A routine eye exam can detect the signs and symptoms of more than 30 different chronic health conditions — from diabetes and hypertension to Alzheimer’s and cancer — long before other types of doctors. In fact, a study published by Population Health Management found that routine eye exams identified signs of high cholesterol 65% of the time, high blood pressure 30% of the time and diabetes 20% of the time — more often than other health care professionals noted signs of these conditions.

For time-strapped employees with families — particularly those in the Sandwich Generation considering health care for themselves, their parents and their children — strong vision benefits can be a valuable care tool that supports entire households.

I’ve seen this first-hand. When my daughter was a child, she began to display worrying health signals, and despite consultations with several different care professionals, her condition went undiagnosed — until she received a routine eye exam.

During that exam, her eye care professional identified early signs of type 1 diabetes and encouraged us to have her checked for the disease. It was that diagnosis — made possible by strong employer-sponsored vision benefits — that afforded us the opportunity to address the condition head on and embrace better health management by leveraging eye health to inform wellness.

Managed Vision Care is Health Care

Employees who must think about health care — including access to robust networks of doctors and keeping costs down through prevention — for not just themselves, but also their entire households, can lean on strong vision benefits for a more integrated view of their wellness that includes more than just contacts lenses.

For employees in an office setting, this could mean blue light lenses for themselves that protect their eyesight at work. For seniors living at home, this could mean early detection of age-related chronic conditions, with new reports pointing to Alzheimer’s as disease that eye exams could possibly detect. And for children, this could mean increasing the chances of their learning success in school, where just a small percentage of vision impairment issues are captured, more often misdiagnosed as learning disabilities.

The bottom line is that eye health is an indicator of overall health, and strong employer-sponsored vision benefits are about quality of life and saving both time and money for employees, particularly those with large households. Next open enrollment season consider prioritizing strong vision benefits as a specialty offering as you evaluate group health plans.

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Amy Mann (Credit: Versant)

Amy Mann is the senior vice president of human resources at Versant Health, a managed vision care company