By: Thomas O’Neil –
Free market principles are what help to promote competition and improve prices for consumers. However, there are some industries in which we allow these principles to fall to the wayside and actually create an environment in which we limit opportunity. The corrective contact lens industry happens to be one of these instances.
In years past, optometrists have been allowed to control where their patients purchase contact lenses. However, in 2003, Congress passed legislation — the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act — that required an optometrist to give a patient their prescription upon the conclusion of a contact lens exam and fitting. This effort by Congress was done to encourage the free market to lower prices for contact lens wearers.
The legislation was fair, it had bi-partisan support, and President Bush signed it into law. In 2004, the Federal Trade Commission passed a rule ensuring this legislation was followed as standard practice. Contact lens wearers were now free to shop around various distributors and retailers for the best deals and most convenient sellers that met their needs. Except they weren’t.
A 2008 survey of eye doctors found that 50 percent self-reported that they did not release prescriptions to their patients. A more recent survey administered to purchasers of contact lenses found that 31 percent of respondents were not given a copy of their prescription, and 60 percent were unaware that they even had that right under federal law. In response to these findings, the FTC delivered 45 warning letters to providers that were either ignoring the 2004 rule or were unaware of the requirement within their practice.