Patient choice drives ODs’ support for antitrust lawsuit

Patient choice drives ODs’ support for antitrust lawsuit

Optometry's advocates are standing up to support an antitrust lawsuit filed in Illinois that seeks to preserve choice for both optometrists and patients.

"We want to give our doctors the freedom to select products that they think are best for the patient."

A complaint filed in late July by Acuity Optical Laboratories, LLC, alleges that Davis Vision Inc., a managed care vision provider, is violating federal and state antitrust laws. The complaint says the violation stems from the provider requiring its contracted ODs and opticians to use its labs exclusively to order prescription eyeglasses for patients.

ODs and other providers must accept this policy to stay in Davis Vision's benefits network. Because Davis Vision dominates the market on vision services for consumers in Chicago, Illinois, any provider that forfeits its business would suffer financially, the complaint says.

Davis Vision's monopoly in this market also could affect laboratories and patients. In Illinois and across the country, "almost all of the large vision insurers are forcing doctors to use their laboratories," says Michael Horstman, executive director of the Illinois Optometric Association (IOA). "And the bottom line result will be that all of the small laboratories throughout the state of Illinois will close."

Upon Acuity's request, IOA took actions to back the lawsuit. At least 150 IOA members signed petitions that were filed with Acuity's complaint and the state's attorney general. The petitions state that a patient has a right to choose where they purchase their eyewear, Horstman says.

"We want to give our doctors the freedom to select products that they think are best for the patient," he says.

This is an important case, says AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D.  "The AOA is concerned about mandatory requirements that restrict an OD's right to select the laboratory that will best serve the patient's needs. In recent years, the AOA and our state associations have put such harmful policies in the spotlight and demonstrated how they undermine quality care."

Policies have stifled competition
According to the complaint, Davis Vision's contracts have stifled competition "by disallowing third party ophthalmic lens manufacturing laboratories even the opportunity to compete, which is a detriment to the market and the public."

Davis Vision has until Sept. 29 to respond to the complaint. "We have received overwhelming support from the national optical community in response to our lawsuit," says Nicholas T. Williams, chief counsel of Acuity Optical Laboratories, LLC, d/b/a Identity Optical Labs. The hope is to resolve this issue in a way "that positively impacts the entire industry, and allows the independent optical business model to thrive once more," Williams says.

Optometry has fought to address the restrictive policies of vision plans in a number of states. In Georgia, Steven Wilson, O.D., and several colleagues won a lawsuit against Spectera Eyecare Networks. In its interpretation of state law, Georgia's high court determined that the vision plan could not force ODs to use its labs exclusively (see page 13 of the May 2014 edition of AOA Focus).

Several state affiliates have passed legislation to further regulate vision plan activities. Texas, Kentucky, Maryland, Vermont, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Kansas have all worked to stop forced discounts on services and materials.

For more information, contact Brian Reuwer, the AOA's associate director of State Government Relations, at BReuwer@aoa.org.

September 15, 2014

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