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Insight by United Healthcare

Beyond glasses and contacts: What you don’t see when it comes to eye health and vision benefits

 

Eye care can change a life’s trajectory. It’s not an overstatement. Consider a story shared by Dr. Scott Edmonds, chief eye care officer at UnitedHealthcare.

He met one of his patients when she was 13 years old. She had significant vision problems that resulted from being born prematurely. While her eyesight had been preserved by medical care, she struggled in school. Edmonds discovered during an evaluation that she had extensive uncorrected astigmatism. He corrected...

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Eye care can change a life’s trajectory. It’s not an overstatement. Consider a story shared by Dr. Scott Edmonds, chief eye care officer at UnitedHealthcare.

He met one of his patients when she was 13 years old. She had significant vision problems that resulted from being born prematurely. While her eyesight had been preserved by medical care, she struggled in school. Edmonds discovered during an evaluation that she had extensive uncorrected astigmatism. He corrected that and then was able to provide her medically necessary contact lenses.

“She literally came out of her shell socially,” Edmonds recalled. “Her grades improved. She got accepted into college. She did great at college. She went on through and became a physical therapist. She met her husband in physical therapy school. They have a new baby. She’s had a really successful life.”

That’s why eye health is so important and why people should take advantage of the eye care benefits that their insurance provides, Edmonds said. “It’s not always that dramatic,” he acknowledged. “But in this case, we could really turn a life around by exactly correcting her refractive error and improving her vision, and I love seeing her when she comes in the office.”

Not just any pair of glasses

Edmonds’ story speaks to something intriguing about eye health, adds John Ryan, CEO of Vision Plans for UnitedHealthcare. Taking care of one’s eyes involves so many factors and aspects of a person’s life, he said. “It’s insurance. It’s medical. It’s fashion. It’s retail.”

Knowing that impact beyond the medical care aspect affects how UnitedHealthcare looks at the services that it provides through its benefits programs for eye health services, like its FedVIP Vision Plan, Ryan said.

“What we’re really seeing is, just like many things in our lives, increasing consumerism,” he said. “People want to take care of their eyes obviously, but when they need vision correction glasses or contacts, but glasses especially, they want something that fits them.”

So people can easily find what they want with less hassle — something else people seek and ask for, he said — UnitedHealthcare has created partnerships with eyewear makers like Warby Parker and GlassesUSA and contractor suppliers like 1-800 Contacts.

“Wherever they want to be on that kind of value chain of what’s important to them — the price, the fashion, where they get it — our network enables that,” Ryan said.

Changing world, changing vision demands

Trends in behavior affect eye health and care needs, not just the look and functionality of the eyewear people seek, Edmonds said.

He pointed to the increased screen time common today. It’s created an eye health issue all its own: digital eyestrain. While many people in their middle years often tend to suffer dry eye irritation, the COVID-19 pandemic saw an increase in eye irritation symptoms among people of all ages.

“People maybe don’t have dry eye, but they have other symptoms or redness or irritation or blurred vision that comes from too much time in front of a digital device,” Edmonds said.

To help address such health challenges and to encourage people to view eye care as part of their total health, UnitedHealthcare has invested in blue light solutions. Beyond blue light protective eyewear, it now partners with screen protector companies like ZAGG and device makers like Dell to provide blue light protection products to its members.

“We’re particularly focused on pediatrics and kids because we really think we need to make an impact there,” Ryan said.

Remember noted Edmonds: “80% of what the brain takes in from its environment comes from the visual system.”

Do you know the 3 basic elements of every eye exam?

Here are the three things that your optometrist or ophthalmologist will be looking for during a typical eye exam:

  • Essential eye exam element No. 1: Can you see clearly, at distance and near, so you can perform well at work or school?

“Vision is our No. 1 job,” said Dr. Scott Edmonds of UnitedHealthcare. “It’s done by refracting the eye to make sure that each eye is corrected equally and that people have good depth perception and that they see as nice and clear as possible.”

  • Essential eye exam element No. 2: Are there signs of any potential eye diseases?

“Some eye diseases, like glaucoma in particular, have no signs or symptoms,” Edmonds said. “A person could have glaucoma, have great vision and not realize that they are threatened. Glaucoma, when left untreated, can lead to blindness.”

  • Essential eye exam element No. 3: Are there any other risk factors that could affect a patient’s general health?

“Twenty-three conditions can be diagnosed through the eye that are unrelated to vision, said John Ryan, CEO of UnitedHealthcare vision plans. For instance, an eye exam that reveals unusual changes in retinal blood vessels often results from hypertension, which is often consistent with undiagnosed diabetes, Edmonds explained.