RE: Contact Lens Rule Review, 16 CFR part 315, Project No. R511995
To Whom It May Concern,
On behalf of Citizen Outreach, a national non-profit grassroots advocacy organization supporting limited government and free-market economics, I’m writing today with regard to the Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued on May 2, 2019.
This is a follow-up to our letter on this matter that was submitted to the FTC on January 27, 2017 voicing support for greater, more accessible consumer choice for the millions of Americans, including members of Citizen Outreach, who wear contact lenses.
I wish to reaffirm our support for a strong Contact Lens Rule by the FTC which encourages free market competition by eliminating government protections for “legacy” providers of contact lenses to the public.
Indeed, the advent of the Internet has provided a wealth of new, safe choices to consumers that both reduces cost and increases convenience – particularly as it relates to the use of tele-medicine; an option worth its weight in gold to many rural Americans.
Unfortunately, like the old blacksmiths squealing about the introduction of the automobile, optometrists who heretofore have enjoyed the monetary fruits of a closed market are seeking to use the power of government to slow down, if not crush outright, their new competitors.
In particular, the optometrist association is objecting to a requirement that they provide patients with copies of their prescriptions so the patient has the ability to shop for the best, most affordable option in where to purchase their contact lenses.
As the only health care professionals afforded the ability to both prescribe and sell their products, this all but guarantees a “captive market.” Optometrists simply want to continue raking in the profits associated with their on-site retail sales operations.
We believe FTC policy should be focused on the best interest of the patient, not the prescriber. That means providing consumers with what they need – a copy of their prescription – in order to comparison shop.
In recent years we’ve discovered that some optometrists have refused to provide such copies of prescriptions to patients after obtaining eye exams. That’s the reason the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA) was adopted in the first place.
Alas, a number of “bad actors” continue to ignore the law and fail to provide copies of contact lens prescriptions to their patients in an effort to protect their profits.
That’s why we support a Contact Lens Rule requiring that patients sign a release form asserting they have been given a copy of their prescription and been made aware of their right to fill it with the provider of their choice.
Optometrists have objected to the introduction of such a release for obvious, self- serving reasons. But their claim that requiring a signature on a simple release form – which has already been adopted by all manner of other health care providers – is an “undue burden” rings hollow.
The adoption of a mandatory release form is the only way to ensure compliance with the FCLCA. The absence of such a release form is a loophole in the law large enough for “bad actors” to drive a truckload of contact lenses through.
In addition, we also support a strong rule mandating that prescribers provide MULTIPLE copies of the patient’s prescription – and within a specified, limited time period – so that consumers can quickly and conveniently price-shop from the multitude of options afforded them in today’s marketplace, including big-box stores and online retailers.
It’s understandable that optometrists – faced with the same type of disruptive competition the taxicab industry has faced from Uber and Lyft and the hotel industry has faced from Airbnb – are seeking government protection from new competition.
But it’s not acceptable.
Retaining the old, closed-market system for purchasing contact lenses doesn’t protect the patient. It protects the big contact lens manufacturers and large national chains of contact lens retailers who, frankly, have been ripping off the consumer and American taxpayers via a rigged game for decades.
The FTC’s objective should be to establish a system that allows consumers to choose the best products at the lowest cost and at maximum convenience; not protect a “legacy” industry hoping to continue riding the gravy train by trapping customers in the current system.
We urge you to act accordingly.
Chuck Muth President