Survey results could prompt changes to vision coverage for some Washingtonians

Results from a new survey could prompt changes to vision coverage for public and school employees.

 

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Members of the Washington State Health Care Authority’s (HCA) Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) discussed results from a HCA web-based vision survey Thursday. Beth Heston, Senior Account Manager for the WHA’s Employees and Retirees Benefits Division, shared results from the survey, which was conducted from Jan. 26th through Feb. 11th. Participants were either members of the PEBB program or the School Employees Benefits Board (SEBB) program.

The PEBB program purchases and coordinates insurance benefits for eligible public employees and retirees, and serves more than 300,000 members. The SEBB program administers health insurance to all employees in school districts, charter schools, and union-represented employees of state educational service districts.

“We wanted to see how people felt about their coverage, which benefits were most important to our members, and how much they were spending out of pocket,” Heston said. 

The PEBB had not discussed vision benefits for about 15 years, Heston said.

Members were asked which program they’re in, which benefits they use, how satisfied they are with benefits, which enhancements would be beneficial, and how much they spend on vision services per year, Heston said.

Participants included 13,433 PEBB members and 9,212 SEBB members, for a total of 22,645. When asked which vision hardware participants used, 20,286 said they used eyeglasses, 7,592 used contact lenses, and 6,474 wore sunglasses, Heston said.

When asked to rank which benefit enhancements they would prefer, 32 percent of members said they would like to see enhancements in the progressive lenses category, while 24 percent said non-glare lenses were most important, according to Heston. Twenty percent listed polycarbonate lenses as their most preferred benefit enhancement.

When asked how much they spent on out-of-pocket vision services each year, the average cost range listed by SEBB and PEBB members was between $151-300. More than 3,000 SEBB members indicated they spent within that amount annually, along with 4,300 PEBB members, Heston said.

PEBB vision services are offered through PEBB medical plans, while SEBB vision services are offered through standalone plans from vision carriers. PEBB services are paid through employee premiums (15 percent) as well as employer contributions (85 percent), while SEBB services are fully employer-paid. Benefit allowances pay for annual eye exams, frames, lenses, and contact lenses.

Survey results prompted Heston to propose aligning vision coverage for PEBB and SEBB members in order to provide more efficiency in program plans and services for members.

“We could choose to embed the vision benefit in the medical plans for both programs,” Heston said. “This would maintain one-stop shopping for lots of folks. They wouldn’t have to search for a provider, because one or two would be available in their medical facility.”

Another option would be offering both programs’ benefits through standalone vision plans, Heston said. 

Board member Harry Bossi said he has been advocating for a standalone option for a long time.

“That’s where I’d like to see us headed,” Bossi said.

Board members will discuss their options in future meetings. They are slated to receive a report on potential costs for program adjustments in June. They will eventually propose any vision plan changes to the HCA, which in turn makes legislative requests.