RE: Contact Lens Rule Review, 16 CFR part 315, Project No. R511995 Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
To the hard working and dedicated staff and Commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission,
Lens.com, America’s best value in contact lenses for a quarter century, thanks you for your strong commitment to the Contact Lens Rule and your dedicated and thorough work over the past few years to make it stronger for consumers while making the contact lens market more competitive and less monopolistic overall. On behalf of millions of contact lens consumers across the country and our Lens.com loyal customers, we are very hopeful that you will soon be able to finalize your proposed NPRM and are grateful for the opportunity to provide comments on your Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, issued on May 28, 2019.
Based in Las Vegas, Lens.com, Inc., a privately held U.S. corporation and a leading online destination for contact lenses since 1995, is the nation’s 2nd largest online retailer for contact lenses. We offer consumers all the popular brands of contact lenses at wholesale prices with convenient, quick delivery. Through its easy-to-use website, www.Lens.com and its toll-free telephone number “1-800 LENS.COM” (1-800-536-7266), Lens.com’s mission and passion is to provide consumers with the best way to buy contact lenses at the best prices using hassle-free business practices.
For too many years, contact lens wearers have been literally left in the dark when it comes to their rights as consumers, never knowing they had the right to their prescription, the right to pay less, and the right not to be hassled or intimidated into making purchases without having all the facts.
Powerful trade groups like the American Optometric Association and contact lens manufacturers have dedicated millions of dollars and employed hundreds of lobbyists to keep a monopoly on prescribing and selling contact lenses, trapping their patients into a system that was stacked against them and shutting the door on innovation and competition.
Despite the passage of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA) in 2004 and the issuance of the FTC’s first Contact Lens Rule that same year, too many prescribers
across the country, cheered on by the AOA, have been and currently are flagrantly ignoring the law of the land, refusing to provide consumers with copies of their prescriptions and failing to verify the prescriptions of consumers who shop around for lenses.
Our current Lens.com customers are being put through the wringer by bad actors who simply won’t release their prescriptions or provide copies of their prescription to their designated agents. Our ability at Lens.com to grow our business and attract new customers by providing more choice and competition in the marketplace is being severely hampered by the fact that patients can’t get a copy of their own prescription after an eye exam.
As you correctly point out in your NRPM and in the new amendments proposed in the SNPRM, the status quo is unacceptable. The FTC needs the ability to enforce the FCLCA and crack down on bad actors who are deliberately violating the law. The FTC clearly needs more tools to help protect consumers and increase competition. We believe you have struck the correct balance with the requirement that patients proactively acknowledge they have been given a copy of their prescription and prescribers keep the record of this acknowledgment on file for three years.
Lens.com has consistently supported the idea that optometrists must demonstrate that they have provided patients with their prescriptions once they have completed their exam. This is because many optometrists do not provide patients with prescriptions despite being required to by law. We know the reason for this is because optometry offices actually make the majority of their revenue from selling contact lenses and glasses, not providing eye care services.
In the SPRM, you raise the idea of providers giving patients digital copies of their prescription as a way to acknowledge and demonstrate that they have complied with the FCLCA. As an online provider of contact lenses and an early adopter of consumer- friendly contact lens technology, we very much appreciate your desire to make it easier for customers to receive their prescriptions in a manner that allows them to easily share it with the seller of their choice. We also appreciate your desire to ensure prescribers don’t skirt the law and instead give other sellers what is needed to ensure customers get the product that they want through the seller of their choice. Therefore, we support the general idea of digital copies of prescriptions. And while we support the general idea of digital copies, the operative word is copy. This is not and either/or proposition but rather, both: a digital copy may be retailed by the office and provided for the convenient retrieval by the patient after a written prescription has been provided, per the original draft of the FCLCA.
However, we believe that the devil will be in the details and that the FTC must provide more clarity and stronger protections around what constitutes a “digital copy’ and a “portal” and what constitutes “electronic delivery”. Prescriptions are the property of patients, and shouldn’t be trapped in some confusing portal of the prescribers making. The FTC needs to outline guidelines to ensure that customers can access their prescriptions via these “portals” with minimal hassle immediately after leaving the doctor’s office.
As we have pointed out in each of our earlier comment letters to the FTC around the Contact Lens Rule, the current system is rigged against consumers and companies who compete with prescribers, because unlike anyone else in the medical profession, contact lens prescribers still have the right to both prescribe and sell contact lenses at the same
time and to determine what brand customers must wear. They simply have no motivation to build systems that allow their patients to take their prescriptions and shop elsewhere and have worked to erect barriers to delay, slow and do end runs around educating consumers about their rights and following the FCLCA which requires automatic prescription release.
The FTC must be vigilant about ensuring that any process or system for the digital release of a prescription is easy, accessible and follows the letter and spirit of the FCLCA. We hope your final rule takes these concerns into account.
In addition to your commitment to patient acknowledgment in the SPRM, Lens.com also supports the provisions in the SPRM which call for patients to be guaranteed the right to additional copies of their prescription. We believe that for too long the burden has been unfairly placed on consumers to have to fight for what is theirs – their prescription – and to have to go out of their way to get something which is their property and they have paid for. In some ways, it is very sad and disappointing that the FTC has had to actually make this part of the law and spell it out because providers haven’t been keeping up their side of the bargain that was the FCLCA.
Going forward, the most important thing that the FTC can do is to wrap up the SPRM and swiftly finalize the Contact Lens Rule. You have put a tremendous amount of work and consideration over the past five years into updating the Contact Lens Rule, proposing strong consumer-friendly changes that ensure choice and competition in the marketplace. You have weighed the evidence, gone out of your way to address concerns, and written a strong rule. Lens.com is grateful, and our millions of customers will benefit as a result. The nation’s 40- plus million contact lens wearers owe the Commission and staff a great debt.
Please move with all haste to enact the rule as drafted. Sincerely,
Lens.com, Inc. Founder & CEO