By Wendy Crosby –
Imagine starting a business where you had a guaranteed clientele. Sure, your product isn’t the best or even the cheapest, but you happen to have a friend or two in Congress willing to pass laws to ensure you are the only company allowed to sell that product.
Think about it: you could charge anything you wanted and run your business inefficiently without consequence. It may not be great for your customers, but it would certainly put a lot of money in your pocket.
This absurd scenario was exactly what ophthalmologists and optometrists had prior to 2004 until Congress finally stood up for patients rights by passing the Contact Lens Rule. This legislation brought an end to the medical lobby’s long held monopoly over the contact lens industry by allowing patients to shop outside of the doctor’s office for lenses.
With this bill, Congress laudably ruled that the patient, not the doctor, owns the prescription. With the Rx slip in hand, the patient was now free to shop for the best product at the best price. Yet, for the past twelve years, over 50 percent of all eye doctors have ignored this law and are still holding patients’ prescriptions hostage.
Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has introduced a new proposal that will ensure that the Contact Lens Rule is followed. It will put a stop to doctors’ assault on consumer rights by mandating that doctors receive a signed form from each patient verifying that they have received a copy of their prescription.
The FTC’s new rule will not only lower prices, it will also open the market to new innovations that will help consumers that have, for much too long, been held captive by companies like Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, CooperVision and Johnson & Johnson, which control upwards of 97 percent of the contact lens industry and have had free reign to create a rigged system.
Although it’s clear that this FTC legislation needs to be passed immediately, powerful special interests are trying to override it with protectionist legislation that will restore the pre-2004 monopoly.
Recently, eye doctors and the large, greedy contact lens manufacturers have been calling in Congressional favors to pass the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 (CLCHPA). This biased law would allow the American Optometric Association (AOA), along with their cohorts like Johnson & Johnson, to again captivate the market.
Essentially, CLCHPA puts the kibosh on valid contact lens sales from companies like Walmart, Costco, and 1-800-Contacts by giving eye doctors the legal authority to “pocket veto” the order by not responding. Under this law, they don’t even have to provide an explanation for striking down the sale. This law will ultimately drive many companies out of the contact lens business, creating a huge void in the affordable contact lens market. Consumers will again be forced to purchase their contact lenses directly from their doctor if they have any hope of receiving their order promptly.
For the 41 million contact lens wearers in the United States, the main point of contention is quite simple: it comes down to who owns the prescription.
Ophthalmologists and optometrists believe that they should maintain control of the prescription and often cite fraudulent eye health facts to back up their assertion. However, their claims have been debunked time and time again. These doctors are conveniently forgetting that under current law, the FTC still gives them the power to veto third party health transactions so long as they provide a reasonable explanation for striking them down.
These eye doctors are also conveniently neglecting the empirical data. Consumers throughout Europe and Japan are free to purchase contact lenses whenever and wherever they choose without first obtaining a prescription, and there has never beenany legitimate scientific evidence demonstrating that eye infections occur more frequently in Europe and Japan than in the U.S. You know we are in trouble when Europe and Japanese patients have more purchasing freedom than those residing in the so-called “Land of the Free.”
The bottom line is that the prescription should and does belong to the patient who sought out the eye doctor and paid him/her to perform the eye exam with the expectation that it will result in a prescription at the end. This is the same relationship patients have with every other type of medical professional, and there is no logical reason that eye doctors should not be held to the same standard as other providers. When push comes to shove, the FTC’s proposal must be passed immediately to clarify the existing law and prevent any further damage from being done to the contact lens industry.