Brokers seeing more value in vision with Lasik News added by Benefits Pro on July 29, 2014

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By Greg Glasgow

Gone are the days when Lasik was a mysterious, untested procedure that might make your eyeballs explode a decade down the road.

Fifteen years in, the procedure — which improves vision by using a laser to reshape a patient's cornea — is as popular as it has ever been, and any vision plan worth its salt offers laser vision correction as part of its standard coverage: either through a discount or through an allowance for employees who wish to have the procedure.

“Post-Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers are looking even more heavily toward being able to offer discounts and value-add program to their employees. Continuing to offer those programs are very important to the employer and to the broker,” says Kevin Hilst, senior vice president of sales for EyeMed.

Hilst adds that stand-alone vision insurance for adults isn't available through public exchanges, though California is considering a plan to establish a separate marketplace for stand-alone vision insurance plans that would be linked to Covered California, the state health insurance exchange. Currently, only pediatric vision care is offered through public exchanges.

Changing demographics

Introduced in the United States in the late ’90s, Lasik is still one of the world's most popular vision surgeries. More than 28 million procedures have been performed worldwide — 600,000 last year alone. The growing numbers come from improved technology that makes more people good candidates for the procedure, and also from an increased familiarity with what Lasik is and how it works.

“I think more people are interested because today, vs. 10 years ago, you personally know people who have had Lasik,” says Terri Rouse, director, managed care operations, for LCA-Vision Inc., which provides Lasik services for carriers like EyeMed. “Ten or 15 years ago, you may not have known anyone personally who had it, so that fear factor is declining. It's not something new anymore; it's something accepted.”

That's especially true for younger employees, who are starting to supplant the baby boomers who fueled much of the Lasik growth before 2008, says Pat McClelland, vice president of U.S. commercial accounts for VSP Vision Care.

“Many of the boomers have now reached an age where refractive surgery isn't an ideal option as compared to when they were a bit younger, but Generation Y is even larger than the baby boomers, and they’re about to enter the prime age range for laser vision correction,” McClelland says. “This means there is a bigger pool of prospective Lasik patients than in previous years.”
Savvy savers

Adding to Lasik's appeal in a PPACA world, the procedure is eligible to be paid for by money in a health savings account or flexible savings account, Rouse says. Combine that tax-advantaged money with a discount and/or an allowance, and the savvy consumer is looking at some major savings.

“You can easily save $1,300 or $1,400 if you have an allowance and combine [that with an FSA or HSA],” Rouse says. “It's really significant. With the advent of [PPACA], I really expect the consumer out there to become more and more aware and just be more involved in their health care decisions.”

Not all plans offer an allowance, Rouse says, “so it's a selling point for the broker to know which plans have it and which don't. The employer might not even know to ask for it or that it's available. They usually put other things into that benefit besides just Lasik, but the broker can definitely sell that as an option.”

The average cost for the procedure is $2,216 per eye, without the discount.

And, McClelland says, brokers should stress the value employees place on a good vision plan.

“A high-quality vision benefit that includes special pricing for laser vision correction is a great way to attract new employees and a nice extra for current employees,” he says.

And employers needn't worry about lost time due to the procedure, he says. “Many of the centers VSP contracts with offer the option of having the procedure done at the end of the work week, allowing patients to recover over the weekend and with minimal time off.”

A vision for vision

Whether it's Lasik, glasses or contacts, Shannon Enders, a broker with Lakeshore Employee Benefits in Muskegon, Mich., says that as the workforce ages, the interest in all types of vision insurance grows.

“I look around a client, and two-thirds of the people are wearing glasses,” he says. “[Vision insurance has] become much easier to talk to a business owner or an organization about.”

And talking about benefits like reduced costs for laser surgery often can open a client's eyes to the true value of a vision plan, he says, whether it's voluntary or employer-funded.

“Because of health care cost increases, most employers are not out there looking at what they should buy next, so you’d better be able to make a somewhat compelling case,” he says. “The primary benefits of having vision insurance are the key, but anything extra that's put in there, like special pricing on eye surgeries, is worth trumpeting.”

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