Senators Urge FTC to “Maintain Vigilance Over Competition” in Contact Lens Market Amid Reports of Optometrists Failing to Provide or Verify Prescriptions
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As optometrists continue to push legislation in the U.S. Congress that would severely restrict where consumers can purchase their contact lenses, the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice today applauded two long-time champions of consumer rights – U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) – for once again standing up for consumers by urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to maintain vigilance over competition in the market for contact lenses.
In a letter to the FTC sent this week, the Senators, who are the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, highlighted repeated violations of the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule by optometrists who refuse to abide by the law and provide patients with a copy of their contact lens prescription whether or not they ask for it. The Contact Lens Rule, which implements the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2003 (FCLCA), is intended to promote a more competitive environment in an industry uniquely saddled with conflicts of interests. Unlike other medical professionals and industries, optometrists are allowed to sell the very products they prescribe and many are also retailers of contact lenses.
“The rights of contact lens consumers are being repeatedly and openly violated by prescribers who refuse to comply with the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule, which requires doctors to give patients a copy of their prescription so that patients can choose for themselves where they purchase their contact lenses,” said Senator Lee, in commenting on his reasoning for sending the FTC letter.
The Senators’ letter comes less than a week after one of their colleagues, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), introduced legislation backed by the American Optometric Association – the industry group for optometrists – that would rewrite current law to undermine competition in the contact lens market to increase profits for optometrists at the expense of consumers.
The legislation would severely restrict where consumers can purchase their contact lenses with a goal of forcing patients to purchase their contacts from providers themselves – reducing choice, increasing costs and jeopardizing eye health.
“We have greatly appreciated the concern for consumers that the Federal Trade Commission has exhibited in this area for more than two decades and applaud the support of those efforts by Senators Lee and Klobuchar,” said Richard Chavez, Senior Vice President for Costco Wholesale, which is a founding member of the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice.
In their letter, the Senators stressed their concern that a significant number of patients do not automatically receive a copy of their prescription following an eye exam, noting: “Without a copy of their prescription, consumers lose the ability to choose where to buy their lenses. Portability of a prescription is fundamental to a competitive market. Without effective compliance with the rule, consumers will be harmed.”
The Senators also urged the FTC to update its study from more than a decade ago on the contact lens industry, with a specific focus on challenges in the competitive marketplace.
Senator Lee expanded on the need for this study in his own remarks, saying: “There are many concerning trends that deserve attention, including the cozy relationship between manufacturers and prescribers, the requirement for a brand to be listed on a contact lens prescription, and the inability of generic alternatives to come to market. It is paramount that our laws and antitrust enforcement policy encourage competition rather than facilitate kickbacks and create barriers to entry that raise prices for consumers.”
Congress enacted the FCLCA in 2003 to address anti-competitive practices that had emerged in a contact lens market. The FCLCA requires optometrists to provide their patients with a copy of their prescription without having to ask. Patients then have the option of using that prescription to purchase their contact lenses from their retailer of choice.
Senator Cassidy’s legislation would threaten this system by adding new barriers to the prescription verification process. These new verification procedures would limit the ability of consumers to purchase their contact lenses from warehouse clubs, mass merchandisers, online or from other alternative retailers. Senator Cassidy’s bill represents a blatant attempt by the optometrists’ trade association to roll back consumer protections Congress passed in 2003 in an effort to reduce competition for contact lens sales and increase profits for optometrists.
About the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice
The Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice serves as a voice for 41 million American contact lens consumers by advocating for continued consumer choice in the contact lens market. The Coalition opposes legislative and regulatory proposals at the federal and state levels that would limit the ability of consumers to purchase contact lenses from the retailer of their choice, whether online, in stores or over-the-phone.
More information about the coalition can be found at KeepContactLensChoice.org.