Putting the focus on contact lens prescriptions

Support HB 2997: Protecting Consumer Rights

to Own Their Contact Lens Prescriptions

By State Rep. Jaime Capelo

Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy supports HB 2997. This proposal protects Texas consumers’ liberties and promotes competition in the contact lens market. In addition, HB 2997 defends a person’s right to obtain their contact lens prescription and assigns violation enforcement responsibilities to an impartial and fair third party, the Texas Board of Health.

HB 2997 promotes consumer choice. HB 2997 would allow a Texan to choose where he or she purchases lenses by requiring eye care professionals to automatically release the prescription to the shopper or the shopper’s agent. Instead of “positive verification,” HB 2997 would enact laws that set a date for doctors to respond to the “positive verification” request. If the doctor does not comply with the request within the due date, the prescription transaction is completed between seller and buyer.

Currently, the opposite would be the case: if a doctor refuses to positively verify the prescription to the patient’s chosen lens provider, the transaction is cancelled, requiring the patient to go back to the doctor to buy his or her lenses. HB 2997 would eliminate this conflict of interest.

HB 2997 protects consumers’ rights. Since July 4, 2003, approximately 2,515 individual Texans have filed complaints to the Texas Optometry Board when an eye care professional denied him or her the opportunity to purchase lenses from a source other than the eye care professional. These violations mostly occurred when the eye care professional refused the patient access to his or her prescription.

The Texas Board of Optometry has not responded to the complaints even though in May of 2002, the Texas Optometry Board signed a binding settlement agreement in which the board, in part, agreed to notify its licensees of the legal requirements related to prescription release, including that a failure to comply with the statutory requirements to release contact lens prescriptions to the patient or to the patient’s representative constitutes a violation of the Contact Lens Prescription Act and the Texas Optometry Act. HB 2997 would eliminate this conflict of interest by providing Texans with an impartial and effective avenue to justice through the Texas Board of Health.

BACKGROUND: Optometrists have excessive powers that no family doctor has ever been granted. They want the right to prescribe contact lens AND to sell them, without fair competition. In the contact lens market, there are too many conflicts of interests that must be addressed. Too many state laws and regulations stifle competition in this market, which drives costs up and reduces choices for consumers.

For instance, unlike the requirements for glasses, there is no federal law that compels physicians to dispense a patient’s contact lenses prescription – that they are entitled to – immediately after an appointment. For those consumers who ask for their prescription, state laws may require the request in writing.

This is a conflict of interest. Consumers are more apt to buy their products from the doctor without being able to shop around for the best product at the best price because consumers don’t know that they are entitled to their prescription. Essentially, the doctor – not consumer – decides the brand of product purchased and the price paid.

Another conflict of interest is that some state laws – Texas included – require “positive verification.” This means that if a consumer shops around for their contact lenses, the walk-in, mail order, Internet, or phone seller must verify the prescription with the doctor. Sellers can only distribute the product to the consumer after this verification step.

Unfortunately, many consumers who have tried to purchase their contact lenses from a distributor other than their prescribing doctor have found that their optometrist fails to answer the “positive verification” request by either not taking a call from a seller or not returning a seller’s request for verification call within a specific time period. When the optometrist ignores the “positive verification” request, the contact lens order is cancelled. This has resulted in 28,000 complaints – 2,500 filed by Texas residents! Not only are prescriptions cancelled, but also valuable time is wasted waiting for “positive verification.”

A final conflict of interest arises when doctors who are party to a complaint from consumers face punishment from a board primarily composed of members of the violator’s professional community.

Unfortunately for consumers, doctors may actually risk the ocular health of consumers by supporting conflicts of interest such as “positive verification.” When a request is denied, consumers are more likely to wear their lenses longer than the recommended time, jeopardizing their health.

MISINFORMATION: Claims by the American Optometric Association (AOA) became a focus of several lawsuits in the mid-1990’s. The AOA was inferring that there were health risks associated from purchasing contact lenses from “alternative channels of distribution” – i.e. not from the doctor directly. These lawsuits, brought by 32 Attorney Generals, complained that the AOA falsely represented to the FDA that a survey substantiated these claims.

This settlement resulted in an order that the “AOA shall not represent directly or indirectly that the incidence or likelihood of eye health problems arising from the use of replacement disposable contact lenses is affected by or casually related to the channel of trade form which the buyer obtains such lenses.”

THE SOLUTION: It is clear that the restrictions put on consumers need to be lifted and misinformation cleared up. Consumers should own their contact lens prescription and have the ability to have it filled where they choose – by the optometrist, another outlet, over the phone or the Internet, without burdensome regulations and verifications.

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