A 2014 study by health information technology company HCMS Group found that the advantages to offering vision benefits plans are extensive, as “employers who offer their employees stand-alone vision benefits experienced $5.8 billion in cost savings over 4 years due to reduced health care costs, avoided productivity losses, and lower turnover rates.”

Dollars and sense

Specifically, the study found that, especially since eye doctors often detect the first signs of diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, offering vision programs can produce savings of “up to $3,120 per employee over four years,” or “a $1.45 return on investment through lower health care costs, improved employee productivity, and lower turnover rates” for every dollar spent on eye exams. 

Workforce Magazine reports that since vision benefits are considered “excepted benefits,” they will not be subject to the 40 percent “Cadillac” tax on benefits that starts in 2020, thereby helping employers “soften the blow to employees as they cut back on medical offerings to save costs.”

Seeing complications 

The need for these benefits is clear. The Vision Council of America (VCA) found that an employee’s productivity can fall by as much as 20 percent if saddled with even an imperceptible visual problem. The American Optometric Association, meanwhile, has reported that “more than 14 percent of patients present with eye or vision-related symptoms resulting from computer work,” and that 10 million eye exams every year occur due to computer-related vision issues.

"An employee’s productivity can fall by as much as 20 percent if saddled with even an imperceptible visual problem."

Then, of course, there are issues related to diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, as of 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, had the disease, with 8.1 million of those cases undiagnosed. 

As of March 2013, diabetes cost American businesses $69 billion in lost productivity.

The good news is that while the need for vision benefits is paramount, the flexibility and variety of these programs is increasing along with an overall growth in focus on health and wellness, meaning more affordable options for employees and employers alike. Benefits Magazine reports that offering a greater variety of supplemental benefits such as vision can help “attract and retain employees while improving morale,” especially considering the different needs of employees in various stages of life.

For other positive developments in this area, science promises increased technological advances for eye patients in the coming years. Stem cell therapy has shown promise in the treatment of macular generation, and 2013 saw the first FDA approval of a retinal prosthesis—a bionic eye—for patients with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa.

Between technology, program flexibility and a greater understand of the importance of vision care, providing vision benefits can help employers grow their businesses by helping employees care for one of their most important assets: their sight.