The odds are better than 3 to 2 you’re reading this article with the aid of some form of eyewear. Some 150 million Americans wear eyeglasses or contact lenses and thousands of others begin to do so each day. But recent technological advances indicate that many of these people will be able to discard their eyewear, thanks to laser vision correction (LVC) surgery.

Further positive news is that LVC surgery has been added to the vision care benefits package by at least one provider, with many more sure to follow.

Vision care has long been near the top of the list of voluntary benefits most requested by employees, according to the findings of countless employee benefit surveys. Now, it seems destined to become even more favored by employers and employees alike. Offering eye laser surgery on an elective and discount basis will answer the requests of many vision care members, and will undoubtedly prove equally appealing to many of your clients and prospects who currently do not have the coverage.

For agents who haven’t as yet added vision care to their portfolio, there’s no better time to do so than now. Vision, always a relatively easy sale, has now been made an even easier product to market.

This product can—and does—serve as both a valuable add-on to the core product being sold (whether it be life/health, disability, long-term care, dental or whatever), and as an effective door-opener that can—and does—often lead to sales of other coverages.

The offering includes eyewear, exams, and optical goods on a discount basis. The LVC surgery benefit, initially being offered with a 10 to 25 percent discount, is structured around a traditional preferred provider organization (PPO) discount formula. Eventually, benefit reimbursements for eye laser surgery will evolve just as they have for the other mentioned benefits in the package.

Vision care products fit the PPO concept, and so vision care discount card plans are also a major— and significant—part of the offering, with no insurance element or risk transfer in the benefit. So, once the sale is made, vision becomes a complete turnkey plan, and there’s no risk, no underwriting, nor any paperwork for the agent.

Discount card plans allow those with vision care benefits to access nationwide and regional networks of independent optometrists, who can provide a substantial savings on eye exams, frames and lenses, including contact lenses. The networks have been set up in such a way that, for 90 percent of the nation’s populace, preferred providers can be found no more than a 20-minute drive from all vision care members.

Vision care is also extremely low-cost—a fact that, not surprisingly, is always of interest to prospective buyers. Some vision plans are as low as $12 to $18 per year per employee.

Variations can be designed in the employer’s budgetary considerations; this being accomplished by managing the frequency of employees’ use of their vision benefits. For example, if the insureds go about once every year or two, the cost for exams, frames, and lenses can be about $40 for exams, $30 for frames, $30 for lenses. Such plans typically range in cost from $2 to $12 per month per employee.

Also, the current marketing penetration for vision is low. It’s less than 25 percent among the general population, and less than 35 percent in the U.S. labor force, according to surveys by A. Foster Higgins, Hewitt Associates, and LIMRA International.

These relatively low figures can possibly be attributed to vision care being rarely considered, if thought about at all, by many agents. Whatever the reason, but as apparent, there’s considerable marketing terrain to explore for those agents savvy enough to do so. It includes marketing the coverage to businesses of all sizes (large, mid-size, and small employer group plans), and to municipalities, school districts, associations, and various other affinity groups.

Mention vision to those within any of these business disciplines and usually, if not always, you’ll have their attention. And that’s because so many can identify with the need…yet, as mentioned, so few have the coverage.

What has especially brought home the need for vision care is the growing requests and desires of employees, the lifeblood of any business. And the requests of vision care members among their number has resulted in the introduction/addition of eye laser surgery to the benefits package.

There are lessons within for companies, agents, brokers—indeed, for any and all industry marketers:

• Any product/service, no matter how successful, can always be made better.

• Industry marketers, no matter how successful, should always listen to their clients/prospects … and they shouldn’t always be selling them what they want to sell, but what the client and/or prospect desires.

With many reasons—representing sales points—for vision care listed, there are yet more. And they also can be used in your sales presentation. A prime example is the fact that eye exams, an integral part of the benefits offering, represent preventive care. Diseases that can be detected in early stages by an eye exam include diabetes, high blood pressure, and glaucoma.

Another fact—and sales point—is that many, if not most, employees spend most of their day before a computer screen. And, because this is so, it’s an equal truism that a qualified eye care professional can furnish much-needed advice and counsel on how to minimize eyestrain and other concerns associated with such exposure.

If what has been mentioned has garnered your interest to the point of further exploring the possibility of adding vision care to your portfolio, then it’s naturally important that you seek out those companies or providers who will best meet your—and your client’s or prospect’s—needs.

Several factors must be ascertained before going forth to market and sell vision care:

• You should check to see if member satisfaction is guaranteed, if the vision plan has consistently delivered, and if there is a substantial referral base of satisfied clients.

• You should also make sure that customer service and administrative support mechanisms are easily accessible and user-friendly, that all marketing materials (brochures, provider directories, discount cards) are professionally prepared and easy to understand… and that commissions are paid accurately and promptly. Speaking of commissions, it should not surprise you to learn that some agents find themselves making more money once they find the right vision plan.

If all checks out, then you’ve found the right vision care plan to offer. And, as hopefully apparent by now, vision isn’t a product to be thrown in your portfolio, only to be taken out when nothing else seems to be working. It’s much too important for that…which you’ll quickly discover should you decide to sell this product to those within a waiting and receptive marketplace.

Paul ]. Disser, a veteran industry marketer, is chairman, CEO, and president of Spectrum Vision Systems Inc., a managed vision care organization and PPO headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., which services over 20,000 companies and four million subscribers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin islands. He can be reached by phone at (800) 635-7874 x450, and by fax at (913) 451-1704.