Bill Would Let Optometrists Block Contact Lens Prescriptions

Published January 3, 2017

A bill that would prevent patients from buying contact lenses from venders of their choice without their optometrists’ approval could resurface in the 115th Congress of the United States, which convened on January 3, 2017.

Under the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, passed in 2003, optometrists must give patients written prescriptions for contact lenses, allowing patients to buy lenses from vendors they choose. The law requires vendors to verify a prescription with a patient’s prescribing optometrist before filling it. Prescriptions are automatically verified when optometrists fail to answer verification requests within eight hours.

The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA), introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) in the 2015-2016 session of Congress, would remove the automatic verification process. Vendors would have to delay filling prescriptions when optometrists express a “question or concern about the accuracy or verification of the prescription,” a bill summary by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress states.

The bill gives no deadline by which optometrists would have to resolve concerns expressed, and it would require vendors to maintain an e-mail address and toll-free telephone number designated for receiving questions or concerns from optometrists. Vendors who fill prescriptions without obtaining verification would face penalties up to $40,000 under the legislation, the summary states.

The Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety, a group that includes the American Optometric Association and Johnson & Johnson, a large manufacturer of contact lenses, supported CLCHPA while the previous Congress was in session. Requiring vendors to verify prescriptions before selling lenses to patients would help reduce the risk of eye infections, the coalition wrote to the Federal Trade Commission in 2015.

Monopoly Money

Peter Ferrara, author of Power to the People: The New Road to Freedom and Prosperity for the Poor, Seniors, and Those Most in Need of the World’s Best Health Care and senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says the legislation would enable optometrists to limit patients to buying lenses from manufacturers in which optometrists have a financial interest.

“If the [bill] prevents lens orders from being filled without current prescriptions, it gives optometrists full control, because they can write-in specific brands,” Ferrara said. “That kind of law would empower them to limit the consumers to buying contact lenses only from manufacturers where they have the most at stake, and there is no benefit to the consumer in that kind of regulation.”

Restricting patients’ purchasing power will deter them from buying new lenses, Ferrara says.

“It’s going to end up reducing the demand for contact lenses in the first place, and so reduce the degree to which customers will visit optometrists to get contact lenses,” Ferrara said. “These kinds of legislations are notorious for unintended consequences.”

Market Safety

Claims that lack of regulation of contact-lens purchases increases corneal infections are unfounded, Ferrara says.

“There’s no evidence that putting these requirements in place would reduce the incidents of this keratitis,” Ferrara said. “This is a false rationale for the unnecessary market power. The consumer can shop for their own lenses just like they shop for their own eyeglasses.”

Vendors have a financial incentive to sell safe, high-quality contact lenses, Ferrara says.

“That’s something that should be left to market competition and consumer control,” Ferrara said. “The consumer should be able to shop in the marketplace and get whatever contact lenses he or she wants.”

Ben Pyle ([email protected]) writes from Cedarville, Ohio.

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