(Megan Barth) – Last month, the largest optometric lobbying group in the nation flew thousands of its members to buddy up with members of Capitol Hill. This is just another example in the recurring history of the American Optometric Association (AOA) attempting to create security in the eye care market by eliminating competition, making friends in Congress, and spreading misinformation.
Before 2003, eyecare professionals—who are unique in that they sell what they also prescribe—had a virtual monopoly over the contact lens marketplace. Thanks to their brand-specific prescriptions, they could control exactly which brand of lenses consumers purchased—oftentimes name-brand at inflated prices. The draconian nature of their big-stick prescription powers stifled the free market by making it virtually impossible for alternative eye-care retailers to sell affordable goods to consumers.
Finally, in 2003, Congress acted to combat these anticompetitive laws. Passing the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA), the body hoped that by mandating that optometrists to hand over prescriptions to their customers, consumers would be more able to make economic decisions to buy contact lens in the broader market.
While the law certainly helped, it did not work exactly as intended—even today, one-third of doctors do not automatically give patients copies of their prescription after an eye exam. Most do not even know that they have a right to a copy of their prescription.
The reason that these eyecare professionals do not give prescriptions out is that compliance is hard to mandate, and incentives play a large role in the decision-making process of these doctors. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, the contact lens and health giant, give special “cash-back rewards” to doctors who sell their brand of lenses to their customers.
Obviously, optometrists would withhold prescriptions to make more cash for themselves. Because of this, the industry economy has not improved, and the AOA continues to reign over the market in favor its special interests, all while spending nearly $2 million a year on the federal level alone.
But the most dangerous part of this campaign is not just economic, it is the firm foundation in misinformation that the AOA’s lobbying campaign is built upon. By analyzing AOA’s most recent attempt to pass anti-competitive law, the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA), a bill which will essentially scrap the large majority of the 2003 reform legislation, it becomes clear that AOA is spreading dangerous falsehoods.
In the AOA’s legislation are several false health claims. The first is that ordering from third-party contact lens suppliers is more dangerous to the eye. The FTC found in 2016 that there is “no reliable empirical evidence to support that such sales are contributing to increased risk or increased incidence of contact lens-related eye problems.”
What is more frightening, though, is not that the AOA is ill-informed, but that they are purposely omitting their own research. In 2016, the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) published a study in the medical journal Contact Lens & Anterior Eye that concluded, “closer access to the eye care provider through in-office soft contact lens purchase did not improve soft contact lens habits or reduce the prevalence of risk behaviors.” Interestingly, this study used Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, which just so happened to be conducted by the CLAY Group, a research organization which was formed by the AAO and the AOA itself.
It’s quite clear that the AOA is waging a war of misinformation, founded on one idea: to make more money by regulatory capture. In simple language, the AOA wants to kill competition and monopolize an industry.
Crony capitalism and the spread of misinformation are examples of inefficiency in a society – economically and socially. At the end of the day, regulation leads to unintended and unpredictable results, and so lawmakers must be wary of any regulation that promises to solve everything. In this example, it is especially clear that Congress can’t let AOA get its way.
Megan Barth is the founder and proprietor of Reaganbabe.com, a nationally recognized political commentator and woman’s advocate. She has appeared on NewsMax TV, One America News Network, America Trends with Dr. Gina, The Blaze Radio, and has regular weekly appearances on a variety of nationally syndicated radio shows.