Health insurance advisors, agents and brokers have always played a crucial role in educating clients about benefit options and helping benefit managers analyze their choices in the health insurance marketplace. This process not only remains pertinent, but becomes more important, during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that the world is experiencing and which will undoubtedly have a profound long-term impact on the health insurance industry.
For agents working with vision benefits, navigating how to best serve clients has proven more complex than usual, when eye exams and eye care practices have generally been put on temporary hold across the country. This could be leading clients to question the necessity and value of vision benefits, with access to care not as simple. But the truth is eye care is unequivocally connected to overall health and early detection of systemic diseases. In fact, 84% of respondents to Versant Health’s Vision Wellness Study say they would be more likely to schedule an eye exam, if they understood their eye doctors’ ability to identify serious health issues.
During this pandemic, the most immediate concern for clients and benefit managers is protecting their health and safety and that of their employees, while maintaining business continuity — and rightfully so. However, as we look toward the future of health, eye care will remain a critical part of the whole-body care equation. So how can the benefits industry balance immediate health concerns with the long-term value of managed vision care?
Enter insurance agents and brokers, who are highly valuable resources for clients as they navigate benefits and care during this crisis, especially with open enrollment season right around the corner. Agents and brokers play a key role in identifying, translating and disseminating benefit and care information in ways clients can understand, as the rapid, unexpected shift to social distancing leads to uncertainty and potential gaps in planning for clients. Agents working with vision benefits must become “champions of health” for their clients by being the connective tissue between managed vision care providers, benefit managers and members — educating and providing resources on maintaining eye health and keeping this critical benefit top of mind, even when members have limited access to in-person care.
Here are three ways agents and brokers can champion vision health in a crisis using their expertise and business relationships:
1. Take a leading role in educating benefit managers on protective eyewear in the COVID-19 environment.
This is particularly for those members who may typically wear frames and contacts. Maintaining health and highlighting the value of vision benefits in this environment may mean sharing specific safety tips from managed vision care, such as the advantages of wearing glasses and other protective eye gear, rather than contacts, in response to the highly-contagious coronavirus.
Agents can also take a role in dispelling myths about eye protection — while glasses are a better alternative to contacts, they do not provide full barrier protection, and the best option for full protection of the eyes from infection when going out in public is to wear safety googles.
2. Proactively survey benefit managers on those members/employees who wear corrective lenses, and share ways to prevent eyewear fogging.
That’s a common occurrence when wearing glasses with masks, and the new normal for eyeglass wearers going out in public.
For example, benefit managers and members may not be aware that their managed vision care and eye care professionals recommend masks with foldable wires as a good option for glasses wearers, as they block warm exhaled air from fogging glasses.
In fact, glasses wearers have a number of options for keeping glasses from fogging to which they may not be privy — agents and brokers can show value by sharing tips for using tissues as absorbents, which capture moisture from the breath and washing glasses with soapy water to create a thin film that reduces surface tension that builds up from breath, maintaining clear vision.
2. Remind providers, managers and members that there are flexible options available when getting supplies and medications.
With social distancing measures in place, people may be confused about how to deal with insurance restrictions and stay safe when accessing medications. During this uncertain time, it is common for people to be unaware of changes to vision health insurance plans and flexibility in refill authorizations.
To best equip managers and members on maintaining their eye health and medication supply at home, keep them informed of their options and value of their benefits. For example, some insurers will approve a three-month supply of medication during a crisis or natural disaster. This will limit emergency in-person client visits and keep confidence in benefits high.
As qualified and knowledgeable resources, agents and brokers can be true “champions of health” for clients who may not be able to readily and easily access care through their benefits by alleviating some unknowns and keeping the value of specialty benefits — like vision insurance — top of mind. Most importantly, when agents educate benefit managers and members on vision care, it not only improves eye health, but can greatly improve overall health outcomes, with vision care as the least-invasive, most affordable method of looking at whole body health.
Dr. Mark Ruchman is the chief medical officer at Versant Health, a managed vision care company.