Contact lenses are medical devices that require a prescription from a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist, and many companies attempt to surpass this safety protocol in order to generate a higher profit from consumers. However, some changes have been on the rise to restore contact lens regulations and patient health and safety. On September 17, 2020, the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety supported a bill introduced to the U.S. Senate. This bill would eliminate contact lens prescription verification via robocalls, and prevent the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposals to require prescribers to receive signed acknowledgement forms specifying patients’ receipt of their contact lens prescriptions.
An Ongoing Battle
The Contact Lens Rule Modernization Act (S. 4613) was introduced by Sen. John Boozman, O.D., R-Ark., Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. This act would ultimately replace the acknowledgement forms of patients’ receipts, with required in-practice notices that state a patient’s right to a copy of their contact lens prescription. This bill further resolves a lot of optometry practice headaches by banning untrustworthy robocalls that verify prescriptions. This legislation mandate went into effect on October 16th of this year.
While this bill is currently in the works, the battle for contact lens wearer and prescriber health and safety has been ongoing. Beginning back in October of 2016, the FTC looked past the concerns and comments of optometrists, ophthalmologists, patient health and consumer advocates, and a bipartisan group consisting of over 100 U.S. House and Senate leaders. The FTC believed there needed to be a plan requiring doctors to collect unnecessary, signed documentation from each patient stating that they received a copy of their contact lens prescription. The doctors would also have to hold the signed documentation for at least 3 years.
Further details of this plan by the FTC were analyzed by a group of independent health economists who demonstrated how the plan would create a huge expense for doctors across the nation, costing them about $18,000 per doctor/per year. It appeared the FTC was more focused on developing these new rules, instead of enforcing previous rules that actually benefitted contact lens wearers and prescribers. One of these formerly passed laws that could use attention and reinforcement was passed back in 2003, titled The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA). Its goal is to protect patient health and safety by combating illegal sales, such as filling expired prescriptions or filling prescriptions with something other than what was prescribed. Unfortunately, the FCLCA still gets overlooked today and illegal sales continue to be abused.
As of today, action is desperately needed to stop the FTC from moving forward with their plans. After attention was brought to these detrimental rules, CooperVision, VSP Global, the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety, the Contact Lens Institute, along with additional industry groups, rallied together to help preserve patient wellness and commend the significance of a healthy doctor-patient relationship. During July of this year, the AOA was joined by the American Academy of Ophthalmology in an assertive and hard-hitting letter to the FTC in an attempt to reinforce the concerns of eye care professionals across the U.S. The letter explained the unreasonable timing of these new rules with the global pandemic onset– eye doctors were trying to re-open their businesses and see patients. Illogical plans would only create more of a distance and unreliable relationship between patients and doctors. The letter further stated that the FTC needs to delay its plan’s effective date until January of 2021. As any sooner rule effectiveness would violate a federal directive established in May of 2020 that aimed to ease regulations that may inhibit economic recovery.
The AOA, along with its many supporters, are fighting and will continue to fight for the rights of our eye care professionals and patients. The FTC may have had good intentions, but the execution of their recent regulations, and their neglect in the improvement and enforcement of other aspects of previous laws has been poor.
So how can we, as optometrists and future optometrists, help? Visit the AOA’s Online Legislative Action Center today and contact your U.S. Senators with a special priority request to co-sponsor the Contact Lens Rule Modernization Act. You can also watch the #AskAOA Webinar: Contact Lens Rule Update – Critical Information for Doctors of Optometry and download the Contact Lens Rule Compliance Toolkit. This toolkit houses information and guidance for how prescribers can make sure they are complying with the updated regulations.