Senate legislation that claims to protect the health of contact-lens users could actually hurt those very same consumers and boost the price tag of government health insurance programs. That’s the warning from National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which today urged lawmakers not to reverse years of progress that have helped Americans purchase eyewear more conveniently and affordably.
“When it comes to removing barriers to free markets, positive policies from the Federal Trade Commission and Congress have benefitted contact-lens consumers and taxpayers for the better part of 15 years,” said NTU President Pete Sepp. “Why would the Senate want to turn back the clock now with unproductive, unnecessary legislation? The U.S. tax system is the laughingstock of the industrialized world, while trillion-dollar deficits loom on the budget horizon – the American people have no patience for legislation that will swallow more of Washington’s time as well as more tax dollars.”
Recently Sens. Cassidy (R-LA) and Boozman (R-AR) introduced S. 2777, whose title claims “to modernize the prescription verification process for contact lenses, [and] to clarify consumer protections regarding false advertising of contact lenses.” Yet, NTU’s analysis indicates that its provisions could curtail Americans’ freedom to purchase from online and mail-order outlets for contact lenses – thereby undermining the hard-won “Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act” passed in 2003. Instead, optometrists would be able to throw up barriers to such services, ironically harming the contact-lens wearers the new bill purports to help.
But from NTU’s perspective, the fiscal impacts would be equally tragic. For example, if civilian government employees or military service people must pay higher costs or lose productivity because of new purchasing regulations that restrict their choices, pressure would increase on the insurance programs to cover them. This would have a direct impact on taxpayers, who subsidize over 70 percent of the premiums in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. If this heavy-handed type of regulation were to be extended to other health services, such as mail-order pharmacies, the burden to taxpayers would become even worse. Reduced access to affordable contact lenses could lead to eye health problems whose fiscal consequences could eventually impact Medicare and Medicaid.
Since the 1970s NTU has represented the cause of taxpayers in a number of health care regulatory struggles, championing more flexible, patient-responsive approaches in areas such as paraprofessional certification, dental management organizations, and drug-approval processes. In a policy paper last year examining the often overbearing practices of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), NTU noted that one of the agency’s most successful evidence-based acts was to remove state-created obstacles to advertising and purchasing eyewear.
“The Senate should reject the medical protectionism of S. 2777 and instead embrace marketplace innovations that improve the nation’s physical and fiscal health,” Sepp concluded. “Freedom for health care consumers, as embodied in current law, is the best, proven way forward.”
NTU is nonpartisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, limited government, and economic freedom at all levels. More information on NTU’s health care regulatory work, including additional analysis of the current Senate legislation, is available at ntu.org.