AOA president stands up for doctors of optometry and patients at Senate hearing
Doctor of optometry David A. Cockrell, president of the American Optometric Association, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel to discuss pricing policies and competition in the contact lens industry, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Lawmakers are concerned about moves by major contact lens makers in the United States setting minimum prices on their products, which prevents discounting by retailers. Cockrell has a practice in Stillwater, Okla.
"As optometrists, our goal is to find the best product to maintain a patient's eye health."
AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D., voiced the concerns of doctors of optometry and their patients at a contentious July 30 U.S. Senate hearing on Capitol Hill.
The AOA learned days ago that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee was planning a hearing on complaints by an online contact lens seller about competition and pricing policies of manufacturers. In response, the AOA secured a coveted slot to provide expert medical and patient care testimony.
With four witnesses total, Dr. Cockrell was joined by representatives from 1-800 CONTACTS, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care and Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports.
The exploratory hearing, called for by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), focused on assertions made by Internet sellers about the impact of the unilateral pricing policies adopted by some contact lens manufacturers. As exchanges on contact lens cost, choice, innovation and marketplace competition continued for more than 90 minutes, Dr. Cockrell kept the senators' attention focused on the needs and health of contact lens patients, including those of his Stillwater, Oklahoma, practice.
Dr. Cockrell opened his remarks by educating the subcommittee about the risks of improper contact lens use and the key role doctors of optometry play in prescribing and fitting patients with contact lenses that best meet their health needs. He also pointed to ongoing innovations in contact lens products.
"As optometrists, our goal is to find the best product to maintain a patient's eye health," said Dr. Cockrell.
During follow-up questioning, Dr. Cockrell responded to claims made by 1-800 CONTACTS by citing the essential role that ODs play in caring for their patients and promoting visual health.
Dr. Cockrell reminded the subcommittee that contact lenses, recognized by federal law as medical devices, should not be thought of as simply another consumer good. He noted that he has observed significant harm arising in patients who purchase lenses online and do not use them properly.
Dr. Cockrell also discussed the AOA's new partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to educate teenagers and young adults about illegally purchased decorative contact lenses.
Dr. Cockrell said that in addition to the highest quality care, doctors of optometry provide patients with choice, convenience and ongoing personal interaction. They provide a direct connection to a trusted eye care professional during the contact lens purchasing process.
Congress’ Sept. 15 deadline for bill language passes with lawmakers backing key guardrails that AOA’s advocates say must be in place for a workable benefit. Yet, price tag developments may forestall efforts.
A September deadline means now is the time for AOA members to act. Attend an upcoming special advisory group session for the latest legislative information and contact your members of Congress.
The AOA continues its support of optometry students, advocating for a temporary suspension of student loan debt due to the pandemic, as well as a long-term avenue toward loan forgiveness and repayment.