If our eye doctors and their cronies in the contact lens industry get their way, consumers are likely to pay more for contact lenses because of having few if any choices of where to buy them. Right now, after getting a prescription for contact lenses, a consumer can either purchase them at the eye doctor’s office, or get them from another vendor at considerable savings. Either way, the same contact lenses fit for a consumer’s prescription can be purchased, but the vendors can sell them as a lower cost in most instances than the eye care practitioner’s office.
The largest manufacturer of contact lenses, Johnson & Johnson, that has about a 40 percent market share in the industry, spent about $6.4 million last year to lobby for regulations on contact lens sales on the debunked claim that contact lenses sold by online vendors are somehow less safe than those sold at higher prices by Optometrists.
The American Optometry Association (AOA) is the trade association representing the Optometrists. Representing the Optometrists’ interests in selling more contact lenses from their office, the AOA has put out the message that contact lenses purchased from the vendors are less safe than those purchased at the eye doctor’s office. The AOA and contact lens makers such as Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb, CooperVision, and Alcon have created an AstroTurf front group, to reinforce the false safety messaging, called The Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety. The only safety this group represents is that of their cronies in the eye doctor industry to make money money selling contact lenses at higher prices by restricting consumer choices.
Johnson & Johnson, as well as other contact lens makers, support enaction of the “Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act“ (S. 2777), that would impose very complex regulations, including restrictions related to verifying prescriptions and communicating with eye doctors offices, that would raise vendors’ cost of doing business and undercut their ability to pass savings along to customers. In short, the regulations would undermine those vendors that offer consumers choices, and lead to customers purchasing contact lenses far more often at the eye doctors offices.
The argument for consumer safety is merely a false sales pitch to get politicians to pass the legislation to restrict consumer choices in contact lens purchases. An investigation by 17 state attorneys general in 1997 found that contact lenses purchases from eye care providers were no more safe than those purchased from other vendors. The restriction sought will not improve safety; they will only limit consumer choices.
The industry has historically opposed customer choice in contact lens purchases, which is why Congress in 2004 enacted the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) to require eye care practitioners to supply consumers with their prescriptions, allowing them to purchase contact lenses from other sellers. The large sellers of contact lenses operate at an economy of scale that allows them to pass on significant savings to consumers on contact lens purchases.
In 1996, 32 state attorneys general sued the AOA and the three largest manufacturers of contact lenses for allegedly not providing consumers with their prescriptions, blocking them from being able to purchase from other contact lens vendors. They also alleged the AOA and the manufacturers engaged in anti-competitive actions to make it tougher for vendors to sell contact lenses at wholesale prices. Congress enacted FCLCA to prevent these actions against consumer choice in contact lens purchases.
The so-called Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act is simply an attempt to roll back the customer choices allowed since Congress passed FCLCA. Placing such restrictions, as supported by Johnson & Johnson and others in the industry, will not enhance patient safety and will only limit consumer choices, raising the costs of contact lenses. Only the contacts lens manufacturers and eye care practitioners, will benefit, at consumer expense, from the proposed legislation.