It's Illegal To Charge For A Contact Lens Prescription

Did you know it’s illegal for a doctor to charge you for giving you your contact lens prescription? Yup, it’s against federal law. The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act mandates that a doctors must provide you with a copy of your prescription after a contact lens fitting.

(b) LIMITATIONS- A prescriber may not–

(1) require purchase of contact lenses from the prescriber or from another person as a condition of providing a copy of a prescription under subsection (a)(1) or (a)(2) or verification of a prescription under subsection (a)(2);

(2) require payment in addition to, or as part of, the fee for an eye examination, fitting, and evaluation as a condition of providing a copy of a prescription under subsection (a)(1) or (a)(2) or verification of a prescription under subsection (a)(2)

If a place tries to charge you for a prescription, walk out of there. Wonder if the same rule applies to laser eye doctors? They don’t seem to believe so.

Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA – H.R. 3140) [Eyetopics] (Thanks to Hustler Moneyblog!)
(Photo: Ninjapoodles)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act– proof that we’ve legislated the hell out of this country.

  2. mantari says:

    Man. I remember a time, even after being fitted with contacts, that the doctor absolutely refused to give me my contact lens prescription, under any circumstances.

    These guys absolutely fear the mail-order contact lens companies.

  3. mantari says:

    Also, I’ve had a few times where I’ve asked for the contact lens prescription, and they’ll (intentionally, IMHO) give just the glasses prescription. Or they’ll leave out an important piece of data, like the lens diameter.

    So many places really play games with contact lens prescriptions, I’m glad they made a law over it. The funny thing is, I just want that stuff for my records. I have yet to actually USE a mail order company.

  4. noquarter says:

    Also, in many states, including my state of MD, they are required to provide a prescription upon request for up to two years after the exam.

    The people who work the front desk don’t know about this law, in my experience, and will attempt to make you pay for another exam. In fact, I couldn’t get my prescription from my doctor’s office until I started making threats of contacting the state AG. After that all the employees suddenly remembered the two-year law.

  5. noquarter says:

    @homerjay: Actually, I think this is proof that we haven’t legislated enough. There should be an overarching “fairness to consumers” law, but there isn’t. As a result, laws like this one get passed piecemeal as people put up a big enough fuss about particular issues – like buying cheap contacts online.

  6. martyz says:

    Sure they can’t charge you for a prescription, but they can certainly charge for the ‘exam’, right?

  7. AlexPDL says:

    This is a great law that the “lawyers” got right. I know we give lawyers a lot of grief but sometimes it takes a lawyer to do some good. :-) Disclosure: Im a lawyer for the lawfirm that authored and passed the leg.

  8. hi says:

    I always had problems with getting the prescriptions. Thats another reason why I got lasik.

  9. Dr. Eirik says:

    I am a practicing optometrist and since I started practicing I’ve given out my prescriptions once the exam is complete. You wouldn’t believe how many patients don’t return for follow up, then call years later and demand an unfinished Rx.

    But a couple things: I don’t think most docs fear the mail order houses anymore, because no one makes much money off the contacts themselves. Private practice docs make, maybe, a buck or two above wholesale a box. What ticks me off about them is that they will often fill expired Rx’s (I have proof from patients).

    Several years ago, they also substituted lenses at will. When Biomedics 55 lenses were still fairly popular, the manufacturer (Ocular Sciences) refused to sell to the mail order houses. The mail order houses response was to substitute a different lens (commonly the B&L Soflens 66) and include a letter to the patient that claimed it was the same lens. That’s a lie, similar to an online pharmacy selling you a different drug in the same class and claiming it’s the same. The fit will almsot always be different, and sometimes dangerously so.

    They also used to have a listing when you looked up Biomedics 55 that claimed “Your doctor may not have your health in mind in prescribing these lenses”. That was also a lie designed to get people to contact their doctor and change the Rx.

    I’ve always worked at commercial locations, so I don’t make a dime off selling contacts. Until silicone lenses came out, I did a lot of Bio 55’s. I have always had a deep distrust of mail order houses since those days.

  10. Xerloq says:

    I had this problem with America’s “Best” stores. I went in for the free eye exam, purchased the lenses and then requested the RX. First, they claimed it was their copyrighted information, then after a letter from a lawyer-friend, they agreed to give it to me for $100 to pay for the photocopies and lost profits from the mail-order lenses i would inevitably buy . Quick phone call from said lawyer friend, and they handed over the prescription. I checked with another doctor to see if it was complete, and it was.

    The thing is, I wear bitoric RGP lenses that weren’t available through mail order.

    I went to a regular optometrist. At the end of the exam, he hands me my RX, and even informed me that mail-order shops carry my lenses now. He said they might be cheaper, but they don’t offer very good return policies. My doc gives me 20 days return, and 1-year prescription adjustment exchanges on lenses. I pay about $20 more than mail order.

  11. MameDennis says:

    I’d prefer to get my prescription, but I’m willing to live without it.

    My eye doc still has a sign posted in the waiting room stating that the office won’t release contact lens prescriptions. (Supposedly they would be legally responsible if anything went wrong with lenses from another supplier.) I realize this is BS, but I love the overall quality of care with this optometrist.

    My previous provider was quite happy to provide my prescription, but everything else about the place was crooked as hell… they basically invented a “tear” in my retina. (Not only has it not been visible to any subsequent optometrists, it also was magically judged to be benign right around the time that they got a good look at my then-skeletal health insurance.)

    At least in my case, I don’t begrudge my optometrist a once-yearly pair of RGPs. I’d probably feel different if I wore soft lenses.

  12. Dr. Eirik says:

    @martyz:

    You can, and almost certainly will, be charged more for the exam itself. A contact lens fit requires more time in the chair, more expertise, and often a follow up visit or more. Even coming in wearing contacts previously prescribed requires more time to examine the eye for damage and check for updates on the Rx. If you havn’t been in for a while, you may need a refit because the lens you used to wear is no longer made (such as an original Acuvue or a number of non-disposable lenses acquired by Ciba in mergers they discontinued) or newer technologies have overtaken what you’re wearing.

    I’ve personally never charged more for the Rx, only required the patient return for their (prepaid) follow up. In fact, I’ve acquired a couple patients over the years who found it was cheaper to re-do the entire exam in my office than pay for the release.

    This tendency, BTW, tends to vary from state to state. In Washington, where I am, it’s not uncommon to release Rx’s and as far as I know it never has been. In other states, it was traditionally not done. Calling doctors in the midwest for Rx’s was often a chore, and they’d only release because the patient was obviously not coming back.

    One thing I’d suggest to anyone reading all this, though, is that you at least check with your doctor to see what they charge, and if they’ll send you the lenses. Many doctors contract with suppliers to direct ship to the patient, or charge the same or less than mail order once you add in shipping. Before I was a doctor, I used to get my lenses from Costco before I realized it was only a buck more a box from my doctor, and he was about 20 miles closer. I’ve also priced out a couple of the mail order houses and will find that they are cheaper on some lenses, but on others they are way more expensive (Daily disposables, for example, were far more expensive a couple years back with 1-800 than Pearle Vision, though that may have changed).

  13. warf0x0r says:

    @homerjay: No its not. Eye care facilities basically held your perscription ransom and forced you to buy contacts at their prices. I once tried to order contacts from the web (1800contacts.com) and before this act they couldn’t process my order because my Eye Care provider wouldn’t give anyone, including me, my perscription. They said I had to get an eye exam from them again and only they could sell me contacts. It was a huge lie. 1800-contacts told me that most providers would ignore their calls to verify perscriptions. Now you are only required to get a eye exam every two years and if your perscription cannot be varified your word stands and resellers can sell you contacts without the permission of your provider who may be unwilling to had it over.

  14. Buran says:

    I’ve always gotten my prescription for free after my yearly eye exam (argh, I need to set one up… damn, I forgot) but I wear regular glasses (I don’t feel comfortable with sticking things in my eyes).

    Why are contact lens wearers treated so differently? If it’s so bad to give patients their prescriptions, then why can I get mine no questions asked?

  15. amoeba says:

    I don’t know how I missed this. Anyway, great to know this INFO. Next week I have my eye exam and I decided to try contact lenses again. I stop to wear contacts because of the hassle and the useless phone calls I had to make to get my prescription done in another place, usually my doctor wouldn’t give my info to Sam’s club. Let’s see how it goes!

  16. amoeba says:

    @Buran: How do you do it? I wear glasses as well, but I get charged extra when I have the crystals done somewhere else…

  17. Dr. Eirik says:

    @warf0x0r:

    If you verified that with your eyecare provider at the time, ok. There are doctors that were, and some probebly that still are, doing that. But I know for a fact that 1-800 was lying to patients and regulators based on a faulty automated system, most likely to build stats for legal challenges in various states (which worked in Texas).

    We used to get verification calls that started with a statement along the lines of “Do you release contact scripts, press 1″. We’d push it, then there would be a click and the message would come back, “We will record that you do not release prescriptions, good bye.”. That happened constantly, despite complaints, for over a year. I’m not sure I *ever* got though that part of a call. When they were doing that, we couldn’t give them verification even if we wanted.

    Now, we get the most annoying computer voice you can imagine, which calls at all hours. We’ve gotten it on our voice mail from calls that come in after 8pm or before 7am. If you don’t sit though the entire 5 minute call, it’ll call you back until you do. And it talks *fast*, so fast that it’s almost impossible to get it on the first pass. So, when they actually do call during working hours, they’ll tie up a staff member for several minutes.

    We’ve called a number of times to complain, especially because it replaced a fax verification system that we didn’t mind at all. In fact, a few companies still use the fax system and it’s far more efficient, allows us to take care of it faster, and allows us to make corrections more easily when needed.

  18. Dr. Eirik says:

    @Buran:

    Eyeglass prescriptions are routinely given out, but glasses don’t have the same potential to cause eye damage. Contact lens patients should be seen yearly, ideally.

    I suspect the reason initially was purely medical, early contacts were rife with problems and damage and infection were very common. Newer contacts have dropped the incidence of severe problems, but even if you’re in a top of the line silicone lens, I still want to see you yearly. I can see the argument (though I don’t agree with it) that keeping the Rx in house forces you to follow up on the contacts to protect your eyes.

    With eyeglasses, though, there isn’t the same problem. And most patients buy their glasses at their doctors office out of habit, anyway.

  19. Balisong says:

    Strange…my optometrist (Lenscrafters) always handed me my prescription after each exam without my asking, in case I ever felt like getting a new pair of glasses somewhere.

  20. lawnmowerdeth says:

    I got my last exam at Wal-mart, and the optometrist provided me a written prescription before I even had asked for it.
    (and I’m one of them crazy Wal-mart haters…)

  21. Treasurer8166 says:

    Around here, they don’t charge you for your Rx…you get a free eye exam for glasses with your insurance, but they charge you for your contact exam. Depending on the insurance company we are with, the eye doctors have charged us from $35 to $60 per contact exam. I personally had lasik done, but I have 2 kids wearing contacts. I smell a rip-off. There is always a way to get around the law!

  22. timmus says:

    I can’t recall when the law on this changed, but I distinctly remember getting military orders to Korea and going to a well-known chain optometrist in the mall in 1996 so I could get stocked up and have an emergency prescription . The doctor hemmed and hawed about it and said “no”, even after I bought lenses from them and after I explained my overseas assignment. Fortunately they caved in. It really pissed me off.

    Before anyone asks, the military doesn’t cover contact lenses except for occupational reasons, at least they didn’t when I was in.