Aging Workforce values Vision Benefit, Doesn't Use It Fully

Those at highest risk missing a significant preventive care opportunity

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Feb 3, 2012
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Despite reporting a strong interest in their employers' vision benefits, an aging U.S. workforce isn’t fully taking advantage of those benefits, leaving the employees at higher risk for age-related vision problems, eye diseases and chronic conditions that impact eye health and compromise productivity, according to results from the annual Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits survey sponsored by Transitions Optical Inc., a provider of vision services.

Baby Boomers (ages 45 to 64) were only slightly more likely than younger employees to enroll in their vision benefit (79 percent vs. 75 percent).

Enrollment in Employer Benefits

Total

Age 18-44

Age 45-64

Age 65+

Medical

91%

91%

93%

84%

Dental

86%

86%

87%

83%

Vision

76%

75%

79%

73%

Life

65%

63%

68%

62%

Source: Transitions Optical Inc.


Similarly, 34 percent of Baby Boomers and 23 percent of those age 65 and older who enroll do not use their benefit to receive a comprehensive annual eye exam.

Did not use vision benefit to pay for a comprehensive eye exam for self in past year

Among those enrolled

Total

Age 18-44

Age 45-64

Age 65+

34%

38%

34%

23%

Source: Transitions Optical Inc.


The survey was conducted by research firm Synovate in October 2011among 2,011 full-time, adult U.S. employees whose employers offer vision benefits.

“A quality vision benefit is important for everyone but especially for employees ages 45 and older who are more likely to experience vision problems that hurt job performance. This age group has a higher risk for developing costly eye diseases and whole body conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, all of which can be detected through comprehensive eye care and addressed with the right eyewear to correct, enhance and protect vision,” said Pat Huot, director of managed vision care at Transitions Optical.

The findings flagged “a serious lost opportunity to help lower potential health care expenditures and boost productivity, and for consumers to take greater control of their health outcomes,” Huot added.

The most commonly cited reason for not enrolling in a vision plan remained “Don't have vision/eye health problems” (cited by 32 percent in 2011 vs. 36 percent in 2010), indicating a continued lack of understanding of the importance of preventive eye care.

Reasons for Not Enrolling in Vision Benefit

(among those not enrolled; multiple reasons accepted)

Don’t have vision/eye health problems

32%

Discounts not enough to justify cost

31%

Receive through family member’s employer

17%

Can’t afford it/employer doesn’t cover

15%

Have private insurance/another plan

5%

Premium lens/frame brands not covered

4%

Eye/vision health problems addressed by general health physician

3%

Employer did not explain vision benefit well enough

3%

Don’t like to go to eye doctor

2%

Source: Transitions Optical Inc.



Awareness of Vision and Aging

Nearly all employees (94 percent) felt their vision benefit would become more important to them as they grew older. However, while the survey confirmed that employees’ actual experiences with many vision-related issues do increase with age, even older employees had limited awareness of these changes, many of which can be addressed with the right eyewear. For example, half of Baby Boomers were unaware that they might have more trouble seeing far away or seeing well in dim lighting as they grow older. Similarly, three in 10 were unaware of the increased risk for eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Employees age 65 and older were slightly more aware of most age-related vision changes than Baby Boomers, although overall awareness was still limited. For instance, 32 percent were unaware that light sensitivity increases with age, and 81 percent were unaware that colors can seem less bright. In addition, employees age 65 and older were only slightly more likely to select "diagnosis of chronic conditions" as a reason why they enrolled in their vision benefit.

Interestingly, employees between the ages of 18 and 44 were most likely to report that they find themselves needing to pause or take breaks at work because their eyes hurt or feel tired (33 percent), reinforcing that younger employees also have vision needs that can be addressed by a quality vision benefit.

“We know that the right vision correction can reduce productivity loss by 20 percent, and that employees value a comprehensive benefit that gives them options in lenses and frames,” Huot said.

Vision Care Education

The findings suggest that employees—including at-risk, older employees—need further education from their employers on the value of the vision benefit and identify several missed opportunities to provide this education. Thirty percent of employees felt that their employers do not take appropriate steps to make sure employees understand their vision benefit.

The survey revealed that:

  • Nearly 60 percent of employers provide only basic vision plan information during the open enrollment period.
  • Only 34 percent include a presentation on what the plan covers.
  • Just 13 percent include information on the importance of eye health.
  • Only 11 percent remind employees to use their vision benefit throughout the year.

Employee education methods—such as one-on-one employee benefits discussions, bringing in a benefits broker or health professional, or educating employees on vision benefits during a time other than open enrollment (such as during a health fair)—were largely underutilized, the survey found.

Vision Benefit Calculators

The website www.healthysightworkingforyou.org includes a Healthy Sight Calculator that allows employers to determine potential health care costs and productivity savings for their specific workforce through a comprehensive vision benefit. An individual version of the calculator shows employees the time, money and sight they could save through their vision benefit.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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