Legislation Would Protect the Health and Safety of Contact Lens Consumers from Predatory Online Sales Tactics
Deirdre Middleton, 703.837.1347
The AOA - the voice of America's family eye doctors and their patients - supports the bipartisan Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016.
ST. LOUIS - Legislation introduced this week in the U.S. House of Representatives and supported by national groups, including the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety, would ensure that online sellers of contact lenses are held accountable for deceptive, abusive and illegal sales tactics that threaten patient health.
Last week's National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report renewed the focus on improving vision health in America and The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 6157) puts measures in place to help accomplish that goal. Introduced by Reps. Pete Olson (R-Texas) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the bill calls for more effective federal enforcement of contact lens patient health and prescription verification safeguards by targeting an array of schemes being used by internet sellers. The legislation earned the AOA's support when it was originally introduced by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) earlier this year. The Senate bill was designated as S. 2777.
"This bill will give contact lens wearers peace of mind, protecting them from dishonest online sellers whose unscrupulous tactics can cause patient harm and increase health care costs," said Andrea P. Thau, O.D., AOA president. "The AOA commends Reps. Olson and Castor for their bipartisan leadership in making patient safety a top priority."
"This bill not only ensures stronger safeguards for patients, but it also sends a message to sellers that illegal tactics and false claims that put patient health at risk will not be permitted," said Congressman Olson. "I'm encouraged by the support for this bill and look forward to working with Rep. Castor and Sen. Cassidy toward passage on behalf of contact lens patients nationwide."
Congresswoman Castor added, "This bill puts patients first and keeps intact the patient-doctor relationship, which is a critical component of our health care system. Rep. Olson and I are proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation, which puts measures in place that ensure doctors can verify important information to further safeguard patients' eye health."
S. 2777 and H.R. 6157 focus on strengthening the patient health safeguards of the 2004 Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act that have been undermined and, in certain cases, even ignored by unscrupulous internet contact lens sellers. The legislation would:
- Hold sellers accountable for illegal sales tactics and false claims, and make increased enforcement to safeguard public health a priority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Establish a live patient safety hotline allowing doctors to provide sellers with patient health information and ensure that the doctor-patient relationship is respected.
- Ban use by internet sellers of disruptive automated "robocalls" into doctors' offices as the mechanism for verifying patient prescription information, and allow doctors to choose live phone calls or emails from sellers instead.
- Ensure contact lenses are dispensed exactly as the prescription is written by the doctor.
- Direct the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the public health and health care cost impact of internet seller abuses.
- Increase fines to sellers to $40,000 per infraction.
Although safe and effective, contact lenses are medical devices and improper use can lead to serious health complications, including infections and other sight-threatening conditions. Complaints from doctors of optometry, other eye care professionals and consumers have raised concern that some internet sellers do not properly verify prescriptions, overfill orders, fill expired prescriptions or fill orders with lenses other than those that were prescribed, placing patients needlessly at risk. A 2015 consumer survey  found that among contact lens patients who ordered their lenses online:
* 1 in 4 have reported receiving a different contact lens brand than prescribed by their eye doctor, without any advance warning;
* 1 in 3 have had their online retailer advise them to substitute a nonprescribed lens due to supply issues; and
* 1 in 3 were able to purchase lenses using an already expired prescription.
These tactics are not new and they are not going unnoticed. This year, one of the largest online contact lens retailers, 1-800 Contacts, was sued by the FTC over efforts to stifle competition and increase prices. The suit alleges that the company unlawfully used its market power to orchestrate and maintain anti-consumer agreements with rival online contact lens retailers.
The AOA will continue to work with partners, including the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety, to urge Congress to support the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act in the House and Senate.
 From September 24-October 2, 2015 APCO Insight conducted an online quantitative survey among 500 U.S. consumers who have purchased contacts online in the last six months, on behalf of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.
About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association, a federation of state, student and armed forces optometric associations, was founded in 1898. Today, the AOA is proud to represent the profession of optometry, America's family eye doctors, who take a leading role in an individual's overall eye and vision care, health and well-being. Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases and injuries that affect the eye and visual system, providing two-thirds of primary eye care in the U.S. For information on a variety of eye health and vision topics, and to find a doctor of optometry near you, visit aoa.org.
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