Anti-Consumer Legislation Would Increase Costs for 41 Million Contact Lens Consumers
Draper, Utah – Legislation being pushed by the American Optometric Association (AOA) and introduced today in the U.S. Senate would rewrite current law to undermine competition in the contact lens marketplace to increase profits for optometrists at the expense of consumers. The legislation would reduce choice, increase costs and jeopardize eye health.
The misleadingly-named Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA), introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., would gut the existing Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA), which eliminated barriers to retail competition making contact lenses easier to replace and less expensive to purchase. Since the Act became law in 2003, competition among contact lens retailers has provided consumers with more choice, greater convenience and lower prices.
“This anti-consumer bill would stifle competition in the contact lenses marketplace by stopping the verification process until the optometrists communicate directly with the retailer. We have seen that optometrists will often refuse to communicate with the retailer because they want to capture the sale for themselves,” said 1-800 Contacts General Counsel Cindy Williams. “So the effect of this bill would be to indefinitely delay and block contact lens sales to alternative retailers. Any doubt that many optometrists would eagerly adopt this anti-competitive behavior is belied by the fact that over half of optometrists admit that they do not give their patients their prescriptions today, which violates the law and denies the patient their right to shop around for contact lenses.”
The FCLCA was intended to address anti-competitive practices that had emerged in a contact lens market 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. Adding to that conflict, patients cannot choose the brand of contact lenses they wish to wear because their eye care providers’ prescriptions are brand-specific.
To help ameliorate the negative impacts of these conflicts on consumers, 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. If they choose a retailer other than their optometrist, this alternative retailer then verifies the prescription by contacting the prescriber. The prescriber has eight-business-hours to respond. If the prescriber does not respond within the required time, the prescription is verified automatically, and the seller may provide contact lenses to the consumer.
Through this new legislation, the AOA and major contact lens manufacturers are advocating for adding new barriers to the verification process. These new regulations would limit the ability of consumers to purchase their contact lenses online or from other alternative retailers, which would increase consumer costs, lower convenience and raise barriers to entry, while providing no demonstrated health benefits.
Contact lens manufacturers recently implemented Resale Price Maintenance policies, increasing prices on many contact lenses and effectively eliminating discounting and prescription portability. These policies are the subject of 56 class action suits, state attorneys general litigation and state-level legislation.
“The bill being put forth by Senator Cassidy would have unintended health consequences to the consumer by diverting consumers away from the online retailers that most effectively promote healthy behavior,” Williams said.
Research shows that online contact lens consumers actually report fewer instances of eye infections because of closer adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for healthy contact lens wear, including higher levels of compliance with suggested wear guidelines.
Consumers are more likely to wear clean, fresh lenses when they are conveniently purchased and affordable. Online consumers also change their contact lens cases more frequently and wash their hands more often due to free lens cases and wear and care guidelines included with each purchase.