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

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

Years ago when consumers had their eyes examined by an eye doctor, if they had chose to get contact lenses they pretty much had to have that prescription filled by their eye doctor at the price charged by that doctor. The ability of consumers to purchase their contact lenses from other vendors provided competition, and consumer choices in obtaining contact lenses, lowing the prices paid for them. But now the eye doctors industry groups are pushing legislation that will benefit themselves by restricting consumer choices on where they buy contact lenses.

The trade group representing eye care practitioners, The American Optometry Association (AOA), has a long history of opposing consumer choices in contact lens purchases. AOA strongly sides with eyes doctors, and against other vendors of contact lenses, in opposing customer choice.

The three largest manufacturers of contact lenses, and AOA, were sued in 1996 by 32 state attorneys general for accusations of denying consumers their prescriptions and anti-competitive practices that made it harder for contact lens vendors to sell at wholesale prices. The AOA made the false, and debunked, claim that contact lenses purchased at the eye doctors office are safe than those purchased elsewhere. 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.

The largest maker of contact lenses, Johnson & Johnson, which controls about 40 percent of the market share, last year spent about $6.4 million on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org, on lobbying to present the false claim that contact lenses purchased at eye doctors offices are safe than those purchased elsewhere. The lobbying also promoted the push for restrictions on the other contact lens vendors, that would also benefit eye care practitioners selling contact lenses from their offices.

The large contact lens manufacturers, including Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, CooperVision, and Johnson & Johnson, and the AOA have created and bankrolled a group to lead their campaign for restrictions on consumer contact lens purchases, called The Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety. They created this group to promote the claim of safety while the real agenda is the cronyism of enabling eye care practitioners to make more money selling contact lenses at higher prices, at the expense of consumers.

The AOA and their industry cronies are working to get Congress to enact the “Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act“ (S. 2777). This legislation would impose draconian regulations on contact lens vendors, including limiting consumer choices, slowing the prescription verification process, and delaying delivery of contact lenses from the vendors. All this will only enrich the major contact lens manufacturers and the members of the AOA. Eye Care Practitioners enjoy an advantage few other professions have, the ability to both prescribe products like contact lenses and also sell them. Consumers benefit from choice and competition in contact lens purchases, in large part because the vendors can sell them their contact lenses are discounted prices for the same exact products customized to their prescriptions.

Congress cracked down on the industry’s anti-competitive practices in 2004 by enacting the Fairness in Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA), which sought 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 same industry groups, including AOA members and the big contact lens makers, today are seeking to roll back these consumer protections by asking Congress to enact the so-called Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act, which would only restrict consumer choices and bolster the profit margins of contact lens manufacturers and AOA members. Congress should stand up for consumers, and against so-called “crony capitalism” by opposing this legislation.