Senators Ask FTC To Finalize The Contact Lens Rule Already

Image courtesy of dave lewis 88

Readers who wear glasses or contact lenses may be surprised to learn that their doctor is supposed to give them a copy of their prescription without being asked, but it’s true. This is especially important for contact lens wearers, whose right to shop around and buy their lenses from any authorized vendor they like is protected by the Federal Trade Commission. Proposed rules would hold doctors even more accountable, requiring them to report to the FTC that they gave patients copies of their prescriptions.

More Paperwork, More Consumer Choice

Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah (home of 1800Contacts) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut released a letter showing bipartisan agreement on this issue, urging the FTC to approve revisions to the rules governing contact lens prescriptions.

The proposed update is to the rules on the FTC’s implementation of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, a law that protects consumers’ right to buy contact lenses from any manufacturer-approved vendor that went into effect in 2004.

If approved, doctors who prescribe contact lens prescriptions would be required to give patients their prescriptions, as they are now, but patients would have to sign a document confirming that they received the prescription, which the doctor would be required to keep on file for three years.

“We strongly support the provision calling for simple signed acknowledgements that consumers have received their prescriptions and the clarification that consumers may substitute the same lens made by the same manufacturer,” the senators said in a joint statement about their letter to Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “In enacting the FCLCA, Congress recognized that Americans benefit from a competitive and vibrant contact lens marketplace that rewards innovation and provides choice.”

The threat of at-home exams

The proposed rule change comes at an interesting turning point for the vision profession as a whole. Multiple startups, including companies that sell contact lenses and glasses direct to consumers over the internet, have apps that let patients undergo a basic eye exam from home, then order lenses or glasses directly.

If patients with stable prescriptions and low risk of serious eye disease are able to skip trips to their local eye boutique altogether, that means optometrists and ophthalmologists would never see these patients to try to sell contacts to them.

“Ongoing pattern of consumer complaints”

Plenty of consumers still don’t realize that they’re able to buy contact lenses from the vendor of their choice, let alone that they’re supposed to automatically receive a prescription.

“Sometimes patients ask me if it’s legal,” the founder of authorized seller Lens.com told The Hill five months ago when lobbyists were fighting over this very rule. “They think the only place they can buy contacts is from their eye doctor.”

In their letter, the senators quote the FTC’s own recent review of the rule, noting an “ongoing pattern of consumer complaints and anecdotal reports” about doctors’ adherence to the rule as well as “the [vision] industry’s long history of failing to provide prescriptions to patients even when obligated by state law.”