Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation that will limit competition in the sale of contact lenses at the behest of the optometrists’ lobby. This legislation will adversely impact America’s 45 million contact lens wearers while padding the profits of optometrists.
The legislation would gut the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) and the Contact Lens Rule (CLR) which was updated and issued unanimously last year by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Lobbyists for a special interest group have convinced a few members of Congress to pass legislation that will stop a rule protecting consumers. The American Optometric Association, the trade association for optometrists, is acting like a union of professionals by pushing legislation titled the Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act. In reality, the scheme neither modernizes the law, nor provides for efficient verification of prescriptions.
The legislation eviscerates an FTC rule that allows contact lens consumers to shop for lower prices outside of the optometrist’s office.
Apparently, the bill’s sponsors — Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Michael Burgess, R-Texas, Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., and David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., in the House and John Boozman R-Ark., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., in the Senate — were misled and convinced by the optometrist’s lobby that federally required automated business to business calls are an annoyance and should be banned.
While no one loves robocalls, the phone calls the Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act (H.R. 3353 and S-1784) wants to outlaw are actually prescription verification calls that empower consumers to shop for the best price.
The calls were implemented to combat optometrists who failed to automatically release contact lens prescriptions, potentially strong-arming patients into buying prescriptions from the optometrists. A law was passed to make sure patients had their prescription information, and the automated calls are part of that process.
This troubling new legislation bans that automated phone verification. As a result, fewer patients will have easy access to their contact lens prescriptions and be able to shop around for the best prices. This will limit choice to the consumer and, in the long run, hike prices for the contact lens wearers and increase profits for the optometrists.
The Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act will exacerbate a disturbing conflict-of-interest already plaguing the contact lens marketplace. Robert Atkinson, Founder and President of the Information Technology and Innovation Alliance, described the problem with a profession selling the product it prescribes.
He writes, ''one of the most egregious examples of an industry guarding its established franchise at the expense of consumers is optometry. Unlike medical doctors who sell only their services (examining, diagnosing and treating patients), optometrists may sell both their services (eye exams) and the products they prescribe, namely contact lenses and eye glasses.
''It is against the law for consumers to buy lenses without a prescription,'' Atkinson continued. ''And so, the profession has both a powerful economic interest (profits) and a powerful tool (the prescription) to ensure that consumers can't buy their lenses from cheaper providers, such as online contact lens companies or big-box retailers.''
He made the case that, because it is against the law for a consumer to purchase contact lenses without a prescription, profits and the power to prescribe combine to provide a powerful motivation for legislation to shield optometrists from competition from online sellers and big box retailers. Atkinson called them a ''cartel.''
Current law provides guardrails to prevent optometrists from cornering the market in the sale of contacts by withholding the prescription to the consumer. But the Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act would upset that balance by making it more difficult to verify prescriptions.
If the bill is allowed to pass, it will kill an important consumer protection and leave the millions of Americans who wear contact lenses more vulnerable to being ripped off when they buy their next box of contacts.
Drew Johnson is a government watchdog and public policy expert who serves as a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. He is currently serving his second term as the public member of the Nevada State Board of Optometry. Read Drew Johnson's Reports — More Here.
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