William Shakespeare said “the eyes are the window to your soul,” but modern-day ophthalmologists say the eyes are a window to much more.
They are a window into a person’s overall health, and for businesses, encouraging employees to use vision coverage can be a doorway to healthcare cost savings for both employer and employee.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, comprehensive eye exams can detect early signs of serious medical conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, aneurysms, glaucoma, cataracts, and more. Routine exams also can help you see more clearly.
Though vision is critical, and many vision problems are preventable or correctable, “vision care is often overlooked,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital BlueCross. “Ignoring vision health can be costly.”
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Optometry studied the relationship between vision and productivity, and found that people with improperly corrected vision took up to 20% longer to complete certain computer tasks.
A study by Prevent Blindness, a Chicago-based eye health organization, predicted the nation’s price tag for vision problems, counting medical treatments and productivity losses, could reach $384 billion annually by 2032, and $717 billion by 2050.
Eye health is constantly under siege. Americans spend an average of nearly nine hours a day looking at device screens, according to a Nielsen survey. That can trigger dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. Over 40% of Americans have experienced eyestrain from excessive screen time, according to the American Optometric Association.
“Routine eye exams can make all of those problems less of a problem,” Dr. Chambers said.
A study by HCMS Group, a risk management firm, found employers with stand-alone vision benefits saved $5.8 billion in reduced healthcare costs over a four-year span. Savings resulted from lower turnover rates and lower-than-expected productivity losses tied to vision problems.
Savings also resulted from early detection and treatment of potentially costly medical issues. Comprehensive eye exams provide a noninvasive view of blood vessels and the optic nerve, both of which can provide early warning signals for other health problems.
During the four-year study, doctors conducting routine eye exams identified 34% of new diabetes cases, 39% of new high blood pressure cases, and 63% of new high cholesterol cases.
Undetected, those conditions can lead to extremely costly, long-term medical interventions.
According to the nonprofit Vision Council, 194.1 million Americans rely on corrected vision, including 164 million adults. Just over half report paying between $100 and $150 for frames, with the average consumer paying $127.
Most vision care plans, such as BlueCross Vision for example, cover some or all of the cost of exams, eyeglass frames, and contact lenses.
Given the demand for those things, vision plans can be a valuable recruitment and retention tool. “It’s a way for companies to show that they really care about the overall health of their employees,” Dr. Chambers said.