(Alexander Hendrie, ATR) After 14 months of review, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued proposed changes to the contact lens rule that will protect a free and open market over the purchase of contact lenses. In addition, they preserve protections that allow consumers the freedom to purchase where they choose, free from government interference.
These proposed changes build on the success of the 2003 Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) and will ensure that the free market is allowed to thrive. Given the proven success of FCLCA, federal lawmakers should be sure not to reverse this working system based on misleading rhetoric.
It is a basic principle of free markets that consumers are free to make decisions without government control over prices and purchasing choices. Existing law works and should only be tweaked as the FTC review calls for, not blown up and replaced with a radically different system as legislation in Congress would do.
Proposed Changes Ensure Consumers and Free Commerce Remain Protected
Prior to passage of FCLCA, optometrists could make it more difficult for their patients to purchase from a third party. These concerns were far from hypothetical – there were many well documented cases of bad actors implicitly or directly blocking the free choice of consumers.
To be clear, there should be no restrictions on professionals selling contact lens, nor should there be any restriction on consumers safely purchasing from a third party.
FCLCA fixed existing flaws in law by allowing 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 proposed FTC rule changes build on the success of FCLCA by streamlining prescription verification in a way that balances patient access and public safety in the most compliant friendly manner.
The rule calls for additional record keeping in the form of a “receipt of contact lens prescription” that enshrines the right of consumers to freely purchase from either their optometrist or a third party provider.
Consumers will also have increased flexibility to have their prescriptions verified through phone, fax, or online, a change that makes sense given the ease of communication today.
Congress Should Reject Misleadingly Named “Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act”
While the results of the FTC’s review moves federal law in the right direction, legislation in Congress would undo this based on vague and unproven “safety concerns.”
The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (S. 2777/H.R. 6157) would revert back to the system of “direct verification,” meaning that an optometrist must prescribe over the phone or in person. A coalition of ten conservative, free market groups, including ATR recently called on lawmakers to reject this protectionist legislation.
While the proposed change may sound innocuous, it would again open the door to bad actors denying patients the freedom to purchase wherever they wish.
Supporters of the legislation claim that it targets deceptive sales of contact lenses and ensures safety for contact lens consumers. But as noted by the FTC’s review of federal law, there is no evidence this is the case. Congress has already considered the issues of contact lens health use and they were incorporated in FCLCA upon passage more than a decade ago.
In actuality, the currently proposed legislation squeezes consumers to make it difficult, even impossible to purchase lenses from any non-optometrist third party.
Congress should not move to constrain the free market and limit consumer choice, especially given the findings of the evidence based review conducted by the FTC.