By Ashley Baker –
A patient walks into an optometrist’s office for an eye exam. He walks out an hour later with a box of contact lenses, conveniently purchased in-office with the eye-care provider’s encouragement.
If the patient is typical, he probably doesn’t stop to wonder why he wasn’t provided a copy of his prescription. In fact, he’s likely wholly ignorant of the significantly cheaper lens options available online. And he’s almost certainly oblivious to the fact that his friendly optometrist just violated the law.
To prevent this kind of scenario and better protect consumer choice, the Federal Trade Commission is proposing changes to rules governing the process of prescribing contact lenses. The FTC’s renewed involvement in lens wear is the latest move in a battle over affordable contacts, one that has seen the medical lobby fight to preserve their moribund industry’s profits and to resist the internet-driven expansion of the free market.
The entrance of online retailers and discount warehouses to the eyewear market has offered consumers less expensive alternatives to purchasing directly from a prescriber. Over time, declining profit margins and market share have prompted eye-care providers to respond by leveraging the one important lever over which they still have control: the prescription-verification process. Patients are more likely to purchase lenses in-office (usually at a higher price) when they aren’t provided copies of their prescriptions. And even when patients do decide to shop around, it can be difficult for outside retailers to verify a prescription’s details.