By Christopher Versace –
Here’s a surprise for the new year – for the first time in twelve years, the Federal Trade Committee (FTC) has set out to protect the interests of contact lens consumers rather than those of the monopolists in the medical lobby.
It’s about time that the FTC expressed some concern about the true causes of price-gouging in the contact lens industry. After all, it’s why they were tasked with regulating the industry in the first place.
In 2004, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Contact Lens Rule, which asked the FTC to step in because government-licensed optometrists and ophthalmologists were using the power of regulatory capture (vis-a-vis government prescription mandates) to raise prices by forcing consumers to purchase lenses directly from them at inflated prices.
This bill made it clear that although doctors are required to issue prescriptions for lenses, those Rx slips are the property of the patient and not the prescriber. The legislation required that doctors give copies of the prescription to the patient, who could then use those slips to shop anywhere he/she wants to for lenses so long as a doctor did not flag a health concern within one business day.
Although the goal of the Contact Lens Rule was to promote competition in the contact lens industry, the FTC has, for the past 12 years, used its regulatory power to stymie it. In 2011, the Commission worked with the Justice Department to issue a consent decree against Da Young Kim, in effect calling Kim a felon for the “crime” for selling non-corrective contact lenses online. And, this summer, the FTC sued 1-800 Contacts under the guise of “anticompetitive practices” in order to protect brick-and-mortar lens retailers from competition.