FTC issues warning letters; troubling legislation being pushed by eye doctors and manufacturers
More than 41 million Americans who wear contact lenses have the right to get a copy of their prescription from their eye doctor and to buy their lenses anywhere they want. Now, this right may be jeopardized by a new bill introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and co-sponsored by Senator John Boozman (R-AR), a former optometrist. The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 (S 2777) would make it harder for patients to obtain a copy of their contact lens prescription in order to get it filled outside the prescriber’s office.
In 2004 the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) was passed to give contact lens wearers the right to receive their prescriptions so that they could buy lenses from providers other than their optometrist. Until this law passed, many consumers assumed they had to buy contacts from the optometrist who did their eye exam, when they could, in fact, get their contacts elsewhere at a lower cost.
The FCLCA helped bring down the cost of contacts and gave millions of consumers the option to buy contacts online, at drugstores or at discount stores like Costco. Since the passage of this bill, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued important rules and guidelines to ensure that consumers are protected, but many consumers still find it difficult to get a copy of their prescription after an eye exam.
In April, the FTC issued warning letters under its authority over the Contact Lens Rule to optometrists and other contact retailers reminding them that eye doctors must, by law, give patients their contact lens prescription after their exam.
In a bipartisan effort, Senator Lee (R-UT) and Senator Klobuchar (D-MN), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Anti-Trust Subcommittee, have expressed concerns that consumers already are being harmed by anticompetitive behavior. Senator Lee said: “The rights of contact lens consumers are being repeatedly and openly violated by prescribers who refuse to comply with the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule, which requires doctors to give patients a copy of their prescription so that patients can choose for themselves where they purchase their contact lenses.” They sent a letter to the FTC in April asking the watchdog agency to investigate thousands of complaints from consumers.
But that hasn’t prevented the legislators behind this bill from attempting to roll back the important consumer protections in the Contact Lens Rule. Recently, Senator Boozman added language from S 2777 into the Senate Financial Services Appropriations Bill during mark-up, demonstrating how far special interests are willing to go to roll back this critical consumer protection law.