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Contact Lens Prescription Bill Would Increase Optometrists’ Market Power

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(Michael McGrady) – Contact lens providers could be fined up to $40,000 per violation for filling prescriptions without first verifying them with prescribers by a modified verification process that could prolong patients’ wait times, if Congress passes a bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Under current law, prescriptions are considered to be automatically verified when a seller of contact lenses who has requested verification of a customer’s prescription receives no response from the customer’s prescriber within eight business hours, according to the Congressional Research Service’s summary of the bill.

Senate Bill 2777, the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016, introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on April 11, wouldprohibit automatic verification in cases when prescribers merely raise concerns about a customer’s prescription during that eight-hour period. The bill would forbid sellers from filling prescriptions until a prescriber affirmatively verifies or corrects the prescription.

The bill’s text does not specify a deadline by which a prescriber who has raised concerns must supply verification or a corrected prescription, making it possible for a prescriber to delay authorization indefinitely.

SB 2777 also would require contact lens sellers to maintain toll-free phone numbers and e-mail addresses to facilitate verifying their customers’ prescriptions with those customers’ prescribers.

Protectionism, Kickbacks

More than 40 million Americans, or one out of eight, wear contact lenses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Peter Ferrara, author of Power to the People: The New Road to Freedom and Prosperity for the Poor, Seniors, and Those Most in Need of the World’s Best Health Care and a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says SB 2777 unfairly serves the financial interests of optometrists by ensuring contact lens wearers will be unable to obtain new lenses without first paying for an optometry appointment.

“This is a counterproductive policy that is regulatory and tax protectionism,” Ferrara said. “It increases costs. It’s not good policy or good politics. It needs to be defeated.”

The bill would empower optometrists to delay or otherwise obstruct the filling of prescriptions by any sellers from whom the optometrist receives no financial gain, Ferrara says.

“Optometrists have access to rebates and kickbacks from contact lens manufacturers,” Ferrara said. “Some optometrists have ownership or personal interests in manufacturers. By simply not responding to prescription verification requests from disfavored discount lens manufacturers, optometrists can limit their patients’ choice of contacts suppliers to those giving optometrists kickbacks.”

‘S. 2777 Is a Protectionist Bill.’

Aaron Dallek, CEO and cofounder of Opternative (see p. 6), a company whose online platform enables patients to obtain prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses by taking a vision exam with a home computer and smartphone, says SB 2777 limits patients’ options and access to affordable vision care.

“We stand against SB 2777 and for consumer choice, accessibility, and affordability in the contact lens industry,” Dallek said. “Innovation should be allowed to flourish to give consumers more affordable and convenient options. SB 2777 is a protectionist bill. No regulations should be passed to protect entrenched interests in any industry, let alone health care, eye care, or around contact lenses.”

Michael McGrady (mmcgrady@mcgradypolicyresearch.orgwrites from Colorado Springs, Colorado. This column was originally published by the Heartland Institute on July 18, 2016

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