From Our Members

Apr 5, 2016

1-800 Contacts: 27,725 Violations Reveal Pattern of Improper Behavior as Many Optometrists Put Profits Ahead of Patient Choice

In an effort to advocate for American consumers, 1-800 Contacts today notified the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of nearly 28,000 violations by optometrists and other eye care providers of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2004 (FCLCA), a law established to create a competitive marketplace for consumers shopping for affordable lenses. These violations reveal a pattern of improper and illegal behavior by many optometrists who consistently put their own profits ahead of patient choice.

“Unlike medical doctors who do not sell what they prescribe, optometrists sell the contact lenses they prescribe” explained Cindy Williams, General Counsel of 1-800 Contacts. “This conflict of interest results in some optometrists acting in a manner that limits their patients’ ability to buy lenses from other retailers – and often results in consumers paying higher prices for an identical product. The violations submitted by 1-800 Contacts today to the FTC demonstrate how these optometrists unfairly compete and may harm patient safety as needed prescriptions are not released.”

“Optometrists perform an important service providing primary eye care for millions of their patients,” said Brian Bethers, Chief Executive Officer of 1-800 Contacts. “Many of these doctors effectively manage the inherent conflict of their occupation by simply choosing not to sell the contact lenses they prescribe. Other optometrists manage to follow the rules of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act as they compete for each sale. Unfortunately, many optometrists take advantage of their position as both a prescriber and a retailer to unfairly compete at the expense of their patients. We urge the FTC to increase its enforcement of the FCLCA and hold these optometrists accountable for their actions.”

Optometrists Regularly Break the Law By Not Giving Prescriptions to Their Patients – The FCLCA guarantees contact lens wearers the right to receive a copy of their prescription without asking for it, which can then be taken to the patient’s retailer of choice. Despite this legal requirement, research shows that 65% of the time, eye care providers do not automatically give the prescription to their patients. The FCLCA also requires that a prescriber provide the prescription to each patient, or anyone who is designated to act on behalf of the patient, including contact lens retailers. Most of the violations submitted today to the FTC are against optometrists who failed or refused to release prescriptions to a duly authorized retailer. By not releasing prescriptions to their patients or their designated representatives, optometrists break the law, increase the possibility for a sale to a patient with an expired prescription and violate the trust of their patients who believe their optometrist is looking out for their best interests.

A Few Optometrists Actually Falsify Information to Deny Valid Prescriptions – Some of the violations submitted today to the FTC relate to the practice of optometrists falsely denying competitor prescription requests in an effort to prevent patients from purchasing contact lenses through another retailer. Ongoing audits of prescription verification requests by 1-800 Contacts reveal that 16,500 verification requests are falsely denied each year. Based on this data, over 200,000 legitimate contact lens customer orders have been cancelled since the FCLCA was passed, causing contact lens consumers unnecessary inconvenience and expense.

Since the FCLCA was enacted in 2004, online contact lens sellers have been closely monitored by the FTC without any evidence of adverse consumer health effects attributed to the online purchase of contact lenses. Online contact lens consumers actually report fewer instances of infections, closer adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for healthy contact lens wear, and higher levels of compliance with manufacturers’ suggested wear guidelines. Consumers are more likely to wear clean, fresh lenses when they are conveniently purchased and affordable. It is interesting to note that consumers who buy their contact lenses online actually visit their doctors for an eye exam just as frequently as those who purchase their lenses from their optometrist office.

1-800 Contacts has long been a leader in providing patients with quality contact lenses in a convenient, cost-effective manner. The lenses 1-800 Contacts sells are the exact same lenses being sold by optometrists. All lenses 1-800 Contacts sells are FDA-approved for sale in the United States. 1-800 Contacts consistently verifies prescriptions for all orders in adherence with the FCLCA. Each year, 1-800 Contacts deletes more than $60 million worth of customer orders in direct response to communication from Optometrists. Optometrists and their trade association should be held to the same high standards as all medical prescribers and comply with their legal obligation to provide patients and their agents with their prescriptions.

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