By David Williams –
At times, the government has an uncanny way of coming up with a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make any sense, but it happens. When the federal government uses its power to micromanage a perceived problem, it hurts the very people it means to protect.
The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (S.2777), put forth by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), purports to protect contact lens consumers from health problems associated with using lenses and not following accepted protocol when wearing them. The truth is that this legislation would have the opposite effect by limiting choice and increasing the cost of contact lenses.
In 2003, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act was passed and broke up a monopoly that the optometrists had in prescribing and selling lenses to consumers. The law required prescribers to automatically provide a copy of the prescription to a patient.
Now, when you go to see your eye doctor, they are supposed to automatically provide copies of the prescriptions to allow consumers to shop for competitively-priced contact lenses. These consumers can go to Walmart, Costco or shop online for lenses. Although every consumer is pressured into purchasing cheaper lenses at the place where they get their eyes checked, the prices are better when consumers are allowed choice. The system is working. People are improving their vision while protecting their bank accounts.
All that could change. There is a group, the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety, that supports Sen. Cassidy’s legislation. This coalition is a group of major contact lens manufacturers and the American Optometric Association (the professional trade association of the optometrists). Both of these special interest groups have a strong economic incentive in less competition and higher prices for contact lenses at the optometrist’s office. They do not represent the best interests of consumers or taxpayers.
Ironically, in European countries and in Japan, it is easier to get contact lenses. In fact, prescriptions are not needed in Japan. With more than 180 million people wearing contact lenses worldwide, it is a sad state of affairs that so many around the world live in a more economically free society when it comes to eye care.