By C. Jarrett Dieterle –
Even in a legal system rife with examples of cronyist laws and favoritism, America’s contact lens market has always stood out for its protectionism. This is because, for decades, the industry was set up so that patients were required to both obtain prescriptions from eye doctors and purchase their contact lenses from those same doctors. The result was that consumers were often pushed into buying certain brands and prevented from enjoying the benefits of competition in the marketplace.
In 2003, based on the inherent problems with a model that positioned doctors as both prescribers and sellers, Congress brought much-needed competition to the industry by passing the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act. The law required eye doctors to provide patients with a copy of their prescription, thereby making it easier for patients to purchase contacts from an alternative source. The Federal Trade Commission was tasked with implementing the law, which it did when it promulgated its Contact Lens Rule in 2004.
The Contact Lens Rule created a sort of patient’s bill of rights by clarifying that eye doctors could not charge fees for prescriptions, patients could not be forced to buy lenses from doctors after an exam, and alternate retailers could automatically issue lenses if a doctor failed to respond within eight hours of receiving a verification request for a prescription.