Putting Off Vision Care Can Be Financially Shortsighted

William Shakespeare said “the eyes are the window to your soul,” but modern-day ophthalmologists say the eyes are a window to much more.

Your eyes can be a window into your overall health, and regular vision exams can help detect other medical issues that, if addressed early, could improve your health and save you money.

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 help preserve or correct your vision.

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.

A study by Prevent Blindness, a Chicago-based eye health organization, said vision related productivity losses and treatment costs could soar to nearly $400 billion annually by 2032.

Eye health is constantly under siege, especially in the online age. Americans spend an average of nearly nine hours a day looking at phones, laptops, and similar 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.

One major benefit of routine eye exams has little to do with vision, and everything to do with your overall health.

In a four-year study by HCMS Group, a risk management firm, 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.

Left undetected, high blood pressure and diabetes can progress into life-threatening conditions that require costly medical interventions. Stated another way, high blood pressure medication, healthy eating, and exercise now, is less painful, and far less costly, than a heart attack and a bed in the intensive care unit down the road.

Of course, eye exams are vital for the estimated 194 million Americans who need glasses and contacts. Exams help determine the exact strength prescriptions, and vision plans can help pay for those items.

Glasses and contacts can be costly, however, with more than half of all eyeglass users paying between $100 and $150 for eyeglass frames, studies show.

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.