By Ken McEldowney and Pete Sepp –
With all of the noise coming out of Washington about health care policy these days, it is understandable if you missed another health care-related fight quietly going on right now that impacts more than 40 million Americans. It is the fight to protect contact lens consumer rights.
Consumer Action and the National Taxpayers Union are groups that don’t often find themselves on the same side of issues in Washington, but our organizations have found common ground in this little-noticed but vital struggle centered on an issue of simple fairness: the right of contact lens consumers to receive their prescriptions from optometrists following eye exams so they can shop around for the best price on contact lenses.
Unlike most other health care professionals, who are not allowed to sell what they prescribe, optometrists can issue prescriptions to patients and then sell them contact lenses. In fact, optometrists earn up to 70 percent of their revenue from the sale of contact lenses and glasses, instead of from providing eye care services. This clear conflict of interest led Congress in 2003 to pass the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, which requires optometrists to provide prescriptions to patients, without the patient having to ask. The requirement was intended to ensure consumers can buy their lenses wherever they want, be it a big box store, a drugstore or an online contact lens retailer.