Legislation before the United States Senate, S.2777 the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA) needlessly reduces choice, increases costs, and may even threaten eye health for the 41 million Americans that rely on contact lens.
CLCHPA, introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) would turn back to clock and reinstitute anti-competitive practices under the flimsy guise of public safety. Specifically, this legislation requires any contact lens prescription to be given under “direct verification,” meaning that an optometrist needs to prescribe a product over the phone or in person. Current law allows for the far more commonsense “passive verification,” which gives consumers the flexibility of a written prescription.
Optometrists are one of the few medical professions that are allowed to sell the products they prescribe. While there should be no restriction on professionals selling these products, this has led to a conflict of interest where patients are sometimes not given the option to choose between similar products. This conflict of interest was addressed in 2003, when lawmakers passed the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA), legislation that allowed passive verification so patients could be given a written prescription to shop where they wanted.
Prior to FCLCA, bad actors could hold their patients hostage by blocking or implicitly denying their patients the right to choose who to buy from. This concern is not hypothetical – there have been several well documented cases of bad actors conspiring to limit consumer choice and access to contact lens for personal enrichment.
While this legislation clearly undermines free market competition, supporters claim it is necessary for safety reasons. This line of reasoning is completely without merit.
In the decade since FCLCA passed, alternative contact lens retailers have been closely monitored by the Federal Trade Commission, yet there is no evidence of adverse health effects caused by purchasing contact lenses from other sources. If anything, consumers would be more likely to wear clean lens if they have more avenues to access the product.
FCLCA eliminated barriers to competition and empowered the free market. The law is a success and it allows consumers to purchase contact lenses where they choose. Unfortunately, Sen. Cassidy’s misleadingly named Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act seeks to undo this free market law by restoring a barrier to competition that in-turn will reduce consumer choice and lead to higher prices.