Communities: Brokers, Advisors & Consultants
Vision Benefit Musts for an Aging Workforce
By Vincent Young, M.D., Albert Einstein Medical Center
Is vision on your radar for the aging workforce? If not, it should be.
As the average age of employees continues to rise, employers everywhere must come to terms with the fact that their health care costs may go up too. With age comes an increased risk for various health problems – including the onset of new vision and eye health issues. Consider that by age 65, one in three employees will experience an eye disease.1 Additionally, one in four employees over age 45 is taking frequent breaks at work because his or her eyes hurt or feel tired.2 All this adds up to a staggering $35 billion per year in medical costs and another $8 billion in productivity loss.3
The good news is that even the worst of vision problems can be prevented or better managed through a comprehensive vision benefit. While relatively inexpensive, vision benefits have an incredibly high return on investment – with the average employer getting back up to $7 for every $1 invested.4
Additionally, offering vision benefits can be a great way to increase employee satisfaction. In fact, 94 percent of workers believe that their vision benefits will become even more important to them as they age.5
When choosing a vision plan, it’s important to look for one that covers annual comprehensive eye exams for detection and management of vision problems and eye diseases, as well as eyewear options that can protect and enhance an employee’s vision.
The Need for Comprehensive Eye Exams
Nearly half of all workers today in the U.S. are over the age of 406
– a time when many vision problems first begin to appear. With age, the lens of the eye slowly loses its flexibility and becomes more rigid, making it difficult to see objects up-close. Aging also causes a normal loss of peripheral vision. An eye doctor can identify these issues during a routine eye exam and encourage management through proper vision correction.
Aside from vision problems, older employees also are at higher risk for developing certain eye diseases – many of which come without warning. If not diagnosed and treated early, even preventable eye diseases can progress and lead to permanent vision loss. Consider age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in America. When detected early, vision loss can be slowed significantly. But once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. Glaucoma is another disease more common with age and among certain ethnicities, including African-Americans and Hispanics. Known as the silent thief of sight, glaucoma gradually destroys peripheral vision without symptoms until eyesight is lost forever.
In addition to eye health issues, older employees are also more likely to have other health problems that affect the eyes, like diabetes and high blood pressure. In the case of diabetes – which affects nearly one in three seniors today7 – the eyecare professional is often the first health professional to detect the disease, because blurred vision is one of the first symptoms. This reinforces the importance of comprehensive eye exams, not only for eye health management, but also for overall health promotion.
The Benefits of the Right Eyewear
Most employees understand the concept of wearing corrective eyewear. If you wear glasses, you’re seeing just fine – right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
First, even employees who are wearing glasses may not be up-to-date with their eyecare appointments and therefore may not have the right prescriptions. Reinforcing this point, note that more than one in three employees over the age of 40 reports trouble seeing up-close, even when wearing eyewear.8
Adding another layer of confusion, even if vision is corrected to 20/20 or better on a chart, they still may not be seeing their best. As the eye ages and changes, problems including sensitivity to light and glare become more common. Tear production also slows with age, leading to dry eye, which can be worsened by light and glare.
Without the right eyewear options to address these issues, employees can suffer from symptoms including headaches, eyestrain and fatigue – which can lead to more frequent breaks and less productive work days. Consider that one in four employees cites glare or light as a main cause of headaches9 – and 90 percent of employees say headaches affect their work performance.10
Fortunately, many comprehensive vision plans offer discounts on or full coverage of lens options that help to reduce glare and light sensitivity. Transitions® photochromic lenses, for example, are clear indoors and adapt their level of darkness in changing outdoor light to enhance vision. They automatically reduce reflections from glare and block 100 percent of UV rays, which can cause or worsen eye diseases including cataract and AMD. Because of this, I frequently recommend them to my patients for their primary, everyday pair of lenses.
In addition to enhancing and protecting sight, these types of adaptive lens options are also trending among today’s workforce – with nearly nine out of 10 employees more interested in vision plans that cover premium lens options.11
Making a Difference Through Education
Despite reporting a strong interest in their company’s vision benefit, 34 percent of enrolled baby boomers are not getting their annual, comprehensive eye exams. Since only 13 percent of employees say they receive information from their employers about the importance of eye health, a lack of education could be a factor.12
To help encourage older employees to fully utilize their vision benefit, employers should take advantage of opportunities to educate them not only during the enrollment period, but throughout the year as well. Many vision plans and optical companies offer free eye health resources that can be shared with employees. Transitions Optical, for example, offers a Healthy Sight Calculator
to help employees determine their eye health risks and possible cost avoidance through a vision benefit.
With the right vision plan, and the right education, employers can enjoy lower healthcare costs, higher productivity rates and increased satisfaction among their aging workers.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics
2 Transitions Optical Employee Healthy Sight Survey, 2011
3 The Economic Impact of Vision Problems, Prevent Blindness America, 2007
4 The Vision Council, 2008
5] Transitions Optical Employee Healthy Sight Survey, 2011
6 American Association of Retired People
8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey
9 Transitions Healthy Sight Global Survey, 2008
10 National Headache Foundation, 2008
11] Transitions Optical Employee Healthy Sight Survey, 2011
12 Transitions Optical Employee Healthy Sight Survey, 2011
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