By Lance Dirr, EyeMed senior manager of lab strategy
Nearly 4 million millennials are about to give the word “progressive” a new meaning, and it’s all about how their employers’ vision benefits will be there for them as they mature.
Millennials today represent the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, with a population of roughly 56 million  (this group is typically defined as born between 1981 and 1995-96; the oldest now around 37.) Based on 1982 birth rates, an estimated 3.7 million of them could turn 40 in 2022. 
As most people enter the early- to mid-40s, they experience a condition called presbyopia, when the eye lens becomes less flexible and therefore has more trouble focusing on nearby objects.  As they reach their 40s, current wearers of prescription glasses or contact lenses may find they now need progressive lenses to correct their near vision, and even those who didn’t previously wear glasses may need glasses.
Connecting progressive lenses and millennials
Why should you care? The market demand for progressive eyeglass lenses is about to start booming.
With the aging of this substantial millennial workforce group, employees will likely also have greater need to access and understand progressive lenses and the vision benefits that may be used to save money on them. Already, 26% of EyeMed members who get eyeglasses purchase progressive lenses and this percentage continues to grow. 
Yet, many people are unclear about what progressives are, how they work, the emerging technologies that improve their function and how the progressive lens benefit works. To remove some of the confusion, I wanted to detail this popular recommendation that eye care providers are making for members, and why.
Progressive lenses – Getting progressively better
Many refer to progressive lenses as “no-line bifocals,” but don’t let the name fool you into thinking they are a new technology — they’ve been around since1959. However, the technology behind progressives has steadily improved for decades with scientists, doctors and engineers developing new lenses for a range of needs, lifestyles and work conditions — even for your business meetings that take place on the golf course.
Progressives are now considered among the best lenses for complete vision correction at all distances, and at the same time can be fashionable and youthful. The way they work is to gradually increase magnification as the wearer looks down the lenses, changing over from distance to intermediate to near (reading) all in 1 lens, without the visible lines of a traditional bifocal or trifocal lens.
Among the types of progressive lenses now available:
- Workplace progressive lenses: Designed especially for office use, these progressives, also called office lenses, can provide focus from 16 inches to 6 feet — terrific for mechanics, shop keepers, painters and anyone using a computer.
- Customized and optimized progressives: These progressives use specialized frame measurements to enhance the progressive design, specific to the wearer. These lenses open the door to more frame style options.
- Lifestyle progressives: These progressives are expressly designed for specific activities such as playing golf, driving and fishing. They’re made with a patented design technology that enhances particular areas of the progressive lens based on the activity of the wearer.
Progressive lens tiers: Affordable choice for all needs
Once the right progressive lens for the patient’s needs has been identified with the doctor and optician, there are additional options to ensure the wearer experiences optimal vision and lifestyle. Enhancements like anti-reflective coatings, Transitions® photochromic lenses and polarized sun lenses can all help members tailor their progressive eyewear to perfectly suit their needs.
As you can see, not all progressive lenses are the same and cost will vary depending on the lens and its technology. Fortunately, comprehensive vision benefits make progressive lenses affordable and easily available, which is especially important as an increasing number of benefit members and workers enter their 40s.
Because there are so many types of progressives, EyeMed categorizes them into groups, or tiers, based on features, benefits and out-of-pocket cost. With a funded benefit, there are typically several progressive lens tiers from “standard” to “premium,” with co-pays that are a little higher for the latest and most advanced lens technologies. This gives the doctor and member wide choice to align their needs and out-of-pocket budgets.
On that point: It is essential that members talk to their eye care provider to determine what progressive lenses are best for them.
Learn more about different eyewear lens types
As your entire workforce ages, including the millennial group marching toward its 40s, you can share EyeMed’s interactive lens tool on eyesiteonwellness.com to help members and employees understand the different lens types, including progressive lenses. You may also want to share this article about vision at age 40 and beyond.
If you liked this article, you may also want to read:
1: “Millennials are the Largest Generation in the U.S. Labor Force,” by Richard Fry, Pew Research Center, April 11, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/
2: “Live Births and Birth Rates, By Year,” InfoPlease, https://www.infoplease.com/us/births/live-births-and-birth-rates-year
3: From ESOW blog, “The View at 40, and Beyond,” citing American Optometric Association, “Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age,” 2010.http://www.eyesiteonwellness.com/the-view-at-40-and-beyond/
4: EyeMed 2017 Book of Business