WellPoint Vision Adds Diabetes Program

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Jeff Spahr

INDIANAPOLIS—Next month, WellPoint Vision becomes the latest managed-care company to turn the spotlight on eyecare as a key factor in overall health care and wellness, when it launches a new diabetes-management program available to most of its vision plan members on Jan. 1.

For those members who have been diagnosed with diabetes, “we’ll be offering 24-hour access to nurses to answer questions about the disease, as well as diabetes care-management resources including online assessments,” Jeff Spahr, WellPoint’s staff vice president vision and voluntary services, told VM in an exclusive interview.

Spahr described the new diabetes program as the first of several planned vision efforts targeting health and wellness. “We will absolutely be bringing in management plans for other diseases, later in 2010 or early in 2011,” he noted.

WellPoint, which offers the Blue View Vision managed-care plans, saw its presence in managed care grow quickly following the November 2004 merger of Anthem and the former WellPoint Health Networks; the merged WellPoint Inc. is now an independent licensee of Blue Cross/Blue Shield in 14 states, and is fully national with its vision insurance program.

WellPoint entered the vision market in 2002, growing to three million covered lives as of this year’s third quarter. The company has an eyecare provider panel that tops 44,000 practitioners and retailers, many of whom came to WellPoint via an alliance with Luxottica Group’s EyeMed Vision Care operation. In addition to access to its provider panel, EyeMed handles certain back-office functions, including claims processing, for WellPoint through their partnership; WellPoint also recruits ECPs on its own to join its panel.

Like other managed-vision firms, WellPoint has seen some impact on the vision insurance business this year from the recession, according to Spahr. For example, “as we talk with clients about their plans for 2010, we’re finding a lot more interest in voluntary plans than in previous years, primarily among smaller companies with from 200 to 500 employees that may have been disproportionately hit by the slow economy,” he said.

Although WellPoint’s vision business continues to grow, “we’re approaching 2010 with a conservative forecast,” he told VM. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty among employers, even though we’ve seen some progress within the vision industry.”

As for the ongoing discussion in the eyecare industry about health care reform and how managed vision care fits into the picture, “we’ve generally taken a low profile in that debate,” Spahr said. “But we always insist the most important thing to keep in mind is that whatever direction health care reform takes, at the end of the day it’s vital that consumers have access to quality vision care.”