By Eric Peters –
Imagine that representatives of General Motors lobbied Congress and got a bill passed requiring people to buy GM-brand cars only.
There would be riots, probably.
So why no outrage over the lobbying juggernaut last week, as well as last month by representatives from the GM of contact lenses, Johnson & Johnson – which controls about 40 percent of the contact lens market – to get a law passed that would do exactly the same thing?
Johnson & Johnson’s North America President Peter Menziuso – accompanied by American Optometric Association (AOA) President Andrea Thau – paid hearty-handshake/back-slapping visit to several Hill lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Michael Burgess (R.-Tx) hoping to wheedle one or all of them into agreeing to help resurrect a legislative Creature from the Black Lagoon titled the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act.
The CLCHPA – which was beaten back into the swamp last year – is disingenuously touted by Menziuso and the AOA as being necessary to “safeguard” people’s eyesight. But when you look into what’s really on the table, you see that it’s really about safeguarding the profits of J&J and the optometry cartel.
It would do that by reimposing a legal requirement that patients buy name-brand-only lenses – like J&J’s Acuvue lenses, for instance – conveniently prescribed by optometrists who often have a business relationship with the manufacturer of those lenses and who get a monetary kickback from the manufacturer for each Officially Prescribed Sale.
This is how it worked before 2003 – when the Fairness in Contact Lens Consumer Act was passed.
Prior to passage of the ‘03 reforms, eye doctors were not required to give patients copies of their prescription – without which they could not shop for lenses elsewhere.
The Fairness act put a stop to that eye-health payola by imposing a requirement that optometrists issue copies of prescriptions to their patients – so that people could shop around for less-costly generic or volume seller/discount alternatives.
None of which, by the way, have been shown to be in any way functionally inferior to the name-brand products or to present any sort of risk to patients’ eye health.
But they do normally cost less – which is a problem the AOA and name-brand retailers like J&J would like to correct legislatively.
Another example of contact lens crony capitalism that existed prior to the ’03 reforms – and which the contact cronies are hoping to resurrect via a revivified CLCHPA – is a requirement that the prescribing eye doctor approve a generic/online contact purchase before the transaction can be completed.
This sounds benign – even reasonable – but the way it was structured before ‘03, a prescribing doctor could hold up a transaction indefinitely by not responding to a request for approval.
The ‘03 Fairness Act dealt with this delaying tactic by requiring that the prescribing optometrist voice any medically relevant questions or concerns about a transaction within a reasonable eight-hour “passive verification” window – after which the sale could proceed without his approval.
J&J and the AOA want to nix all of these reforms and replace them with mandated-by-Congress “ . . . one-year contact lens expiration dates, non-substitution of prescribed contact lens brands and comprehensive eye exams.”
Whatever the eye doctor prescribes you would be obliged to buy. Not the corrective factor – the brand.
You would not be allowed to shop around for lower-cost generic contacts.
Optometrists would once again have the power to kibosh any sale outside their practice by refusing to ever approve an outside-their-practice sale of contacts.
All they’d need to do to kill the sale is do . . . nothing.
Silence wouldn’t merely be golden. It would be profitable.
J&J and the AOA would also like to impose a requirement that patients submit to expensive but not-medically-necessary annual eye exams to get a prescription – even for simple refills.
This is something even the AOA itself has rather embarrassingly conceded isn’t medically necessary.
But it does gin up business.
It’s interesting to note that in most European Union countries (and also Japan) one doesn’t even need a prescription – ever – to get contacts. People are free to obtain them in much the same way that Americans are still free to buy reading glasses, which are available without fuss at almost any supermarket or pharmacy.
No surprise, reading glasses are both easy to get – and inexpensive to get.
The same could be just as true for contact lenses.
Apps such as Simple Contacts, Opternative, and GlassesOn have been developed which eliminate the need for a routine, in-office vision exam. The tests – which take about 25 minutes – can be done online, from one’s home. No need to take time off from work and then waiting 30 minutes or more to see the doctor.
The online tests cost less than a visit to many eye doctors’ office – even though an eye doctor still reviews the online tests just the same.
And just as safely.
Only the cost is less because the online app isn’t billing you for the upkeep of an eye doctor’s bricks-and-mortar practice, his staff and so on.
Naturally, J&J and the AOA want to ban online vision tests, too.
Not because they are guardians of peoples’ health.
The worry – if you are a contact lens crony capitalist – is that online vision tests and generic/lower-cost alternatives to name-brand contacts end-runs your “business” model.