Legislation pending in Congress will restrict consumer choice in contact lens purchases
Legislation pending in Congress will restrict consumer choice in contact lens purchases

While some consumers purchase contact lenses from their eye doctor that prescribes them, many will also choose to obtain their lenses from other vendors that will fill their prescriptions, often for considerable savings in price over that charged at the eye doctor’s office. Seeing a loss in revenue, industry groups representing eye doctors are supporting legislation that would impose draconian regulations on those vendors that would severely restrict consumer choices.

The eye care practitioners and contact lens manufacturers have a long history of opposing consumer choices so they can make more money on contact lens sales. The American Optometry Association (AOA), the trade group representing eye care practitioners, has strongly sides with eyes doctors, and against other vendors of contact lenses, in opposing customer choice.

In 1996, 32 state attorneys general sued AOA and the three largest makers of contact lenses, accusing them of not providing consumers their prescriptions, and engaging in other practices to make it tougher for vendors to sell contact lenses at wholesale prices. The AOA falsely claimed that contact lenses purchased outside the eye doctors offices were somehow less safe. This claim was debunked by a 1997 investigation by 17 state attorneys general that found contact lenses purchased at eye care practitioners offices were no more safe than those purchased from other vendors.

Johnson & Johnson is the largest maker of contact lenses, holding about 40 percent of the market share. Last year they spent about $6.4 million on lobbying, promoting the false “safety” message on behalf of contact lenses sold by eye care practitioners, and seeking restrictions in their favor and against other contact lens vendors.

The AOA and the largest contact lens manufacturers, including Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, CooperVision, and Johnson & Johnson, have created and funded a front group to promote the “safety” message, called The Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety. The group promotes the claim of safety while they are for the cronyism of restricting consumer choices in contact lens purchases to enable eye care practitioners to make more money selling them at higher prices.

The primary objective of the AOA and the contact lens makers it to get Congress to enact the “Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act“ (S. 2777), that would impose an excessively complex set of regulations on all the contact lens vendors other than eye doctor offices. The bill will limit consumer choices, slow the prescription verification process, and delay delivery of contact lenses from the vendors while enriching the major contact lens manufacturers and the members of the AOA. Eye care practitioners are among the few professions that both prescribe and also sell the product they prescribe. The other vendors, who can operate at larger economies of scale and sell at wholesale prices, can offer consumer significant savings for the exact same contact lenses made to fit their prescription.

Because of the anti-competitive practices, Congress in 2004 enacted the Fairness in Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) to protect consumer choice by requiring eye care practitioners to provide patients their prescriptions, and stopping efforts to thwart consumers from purchasing contact lenses from vendors other than the eye doctor’s offices. The effort by the industry’s interest groups to enact the so-called Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act is quite simply an attempt roll back their consumer protections, leading to more consumers having to purchase their contact lenses at higher prices from their eye care practitioners.

Congress should say no to the AOA and their cronies, and uphold the rights protected by enacting FCLCA, and defeat the effort to pass this new legislation currently pending that would only restrict customer choice and bolster the profits of the contact lens makers and the eye doctors that sell them.