After a process that lasted almost five years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its updated contact lens rule on June 23, 2020. The rule was issued on a unanimous, bipartisan basis to ensure that consumers have the freedom to purchase contact lenses from wherever they want whether that is from their optometrists or from a third party.
Moving forward, any efforts to undermine the proposal should be rejected including possible efforts by Members of Congress to block the contact lens rule in broader legislation.
Back in 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) into law, legislation that ensured optometrists provide patients with a copy of their prescription. This provision was enacted to ensure consumers had the freedom to purchase contact lenses from wherever they choose without interference.
Optometrists differ from other healthcare professionals in that they both prescribe and sell the product to patients. While there should be no restriction on an optometrist selling contact lens, there should also be no barriers or restrictions placed on the ability of consumers to purchase from a third party.
Unfortunately, there was a clear need for FCLCA due to numerous well documented cases of some optometrists acting as bad actors by implicitly or directly blocking the free choice of consumers.
FCLCA was successful in addressing this and ensuring patients had more options on where to fill their prescriptions. The legislation allowed consumers the right to “passive verification” over contact lens prescriptions, a change that meant patients would have access to a written prescription so they could shop where they wanted.
The updated FTC contact lens rule builds upon the success of FCLCA in protecting consumers and free commerce.
Under the rule, optometrists are required to maintain documentation from patients that affirmatively acknowledge in writing that they have received a copy of their prescription. The FTC gives optometrists four different options for patients to acknowledge prescription receipts, including printing the acknowledgment on the receipt where they pay for their exam.
This reasonable requirement aims to ensure that patients receive their prescription and have the freedom to shop where they choose. Any suggestion that it is overly burdensome to optometrists is exaggerated given they already would need to keep detailed records of their patients.
Moving forward, we should ensure the free market is protected and that consumers have the freedom to purchase contact lenses from optometrists or from a third party. The updated FTC contact lens rule achieves this in a balanced way that promotes competition and access. Any effort to delay or block the rule should be rejected.