Optometry is a legislated profession. The decisions made by state and federal lawmakers and agency officials have a direct, and often long-lasting, impact on doctors of optometry and patients.
The rules set forth in federal and state laws and regulations have a significant impact on how doctors of optometry can practice and provide care for patients.
Lawmakers and agency officials play a key role in determining what care is within optometry’s scope of practice, how patients are able to access needed eye and vision care, and how doctors are reimbursed.
Defending the rights of doctors of optometry to practice full-scope optometry is one of the most important roles of the American Optometric Association. The volunteers and staff of the AOA Advocacy Group are dedicated to fighting and winning in Washington, D.C. and state capital across the country on behalf of doctors of optometry and patients.
AOA Confirms FTC Delay of Enforcement of Changes to Contact Lens Rule
As AOA previously reported, House Report 116-456 – FY 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, as signed into law by the President on December 27, 2020 (FY 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act) included a provision that directed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to delay the effective date of the Contact Lens Rule amendments that went into place on October 16, 2020. The Congressional directive also importantly noted that the FTC should suspend any enforcement of those amendments, until March 31, 2021.
Following the Congressional directive issued, AOA reached out to the FTC on January 4 to confirm that the Commission would be committed to full adherence to this directive. The Commission has been unresponsive to date, but AOA has received confirmation from Congressional contacts that that Commission will not move forward with any enforcement actions prior to March 31.
While the enforcement of new amendments to the Rule are delayed, doctors must continue to adhere to the long standing Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) requirement to provide patients with a copy of their contact lens prescription following completion of the contact lens fitting. Under the FCLCA, doctors are also required to provide a copy of a contact lens prescription to anyone designated to act as the patient’s agent. To best prepare for compliance with new regulations on April 1, we encourage doctors to review the AOA FTC Rule Compliance Toolkit.
The compliance delay represents a significant rebuke of the FTC’s handling of the contact lens rule and an indication that the agency’s approach to the next once-per decade review process will receive increased scrutiny from the start, especially if it seeks to de-regulate or in any way diminish the status of contact lenses as medical devices. The AOA, which secured a number of important modifications of the FTC’s initial draconian 2015 proposal and supported more active Congressional oversight, will continue to defend doctor prescribing decisions and the Federal laws that safeguard contact lens patient health and safety.
Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act
Health insurers, including standalone vision plans, will no longer be exempt from federal antitrust law, after the Senate approved the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act at the end of 2020. The House had previously passed the bill, H.R. 1418, to repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act exemption, on Sept. 21.
AOA supported the legislation, which was separate from the COVID-19 relief and appropriations package, because it could help address excessive market consolidation and force insurers to deal more fairly with consumers of eye care services as well as with doctors of optometry. The repeal empowers the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to focus on specific anticompetitive health insurance actions, thereby leveling the playing field for doctors and other health care professions who already abide by the same set of rules.
After more than a decade of sustained advocacy by a coalition of physician organizations, Congress overwhelmingly favored the move, which aims to lower the cost of health coverage, with the House approving it by voice vote, and, on Dec. 22, the Senate agreeing by unanimous consent. The 75-year-old McCarran-Ferguson Act had exempted health insurers from federal antitrust enforcement, leaving it to states to primarily regulate the business of insurance. Now, federal regulators have more power to tackle issues that state regulators have not addressed.
The AOA and doctors are acting quickly to enlist federal legislators to join the growing mass of voices asserting concerns regarding the new amendment to the Contact Lens Rule announced by the FTC.
Through the AOA’s nonstop efforts, optometry’s patient safety and eye health messages have had more reach than ever before.
House appropriations subcommittee scolds FTC for effective date of new rule, seeks 2021 implementation.