UPDATE: AOA submits comments on FTC Contact Lens, Eyeglasses rules

October 27, 2015
Read AOA’s 15 points to enhance patient protection in FTC rules

Prescription release rules that regulate contact lens and eyeglasses sales don't go far enough to safeguard consumers, contends the AOA in formal comments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Submitted in response to an FTC-initiated review of the Contact Lens Rule and Ophthalmic Practice (Eyeglasses) Rule on Monday, Oct. 26, the AOA's comments urge the FTC to take action to ensure the regulations which implement the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) are fair and effective among patients and their doctors, and retailers.

Pertaining to the Contact Lens Rule, the AOA's comments encouraged the FTC to best protect patients by:

  1. Fixing the broken passive verification system.
  2. Ensuring retailers can't sell lenses based on an expired prescription.
  3. Stopping 'robocalls' that often are difficult to understand or are incomplete.
  4. Shutting down online retailers that allow patients to purchase lenses without a prescription.
  5. Ensuring consumers are well-informed about patient agency, and preventing retailers' deceptive practices to assert patient agency.
  6. Stopping retailers from encouraging patients to stockpile lenses that far exceed the prescription length.
  7. Stopping retailers' business practices that misguide patients on the requirements of the Rule.
  8. Shutting down retailers that do not following the requirements of the Rule and target patients through social media and e-commerce sites.
  9. Ensuring retailers provide a reliably accessible live-contact person for doctors to discuss prescription problems, as outlined in the Rule.

Pertaining to the Eyeglasses Rule, the AOA's comments encouraged the FTC to take action by:

  1. Ensuring that state laws regarding prescription requirements are respected and not contradicted by federal regulations that are not supported by federal statute.
  2. Guarding against retailers' deceptive information about what is required in a prescription.
  3. Stopping retailers' misinformation that devalues the need for appropriate eye care.
  4. Clarifying what the Rule currently indicates regarding eyeglasses prescriptions.
  5. Establishing safeguards that ensure patients receive high quality eyeglasses that appropriately address patients' eye care needs regardless of where the glasses are purchased.
  6. Ensuring that the Contact Lens Rule's inadequate passive verification system is not replicated for eyeglass sales.

The AOA long expected this rule review to take place this year, and recently asked AOA members to put forward concerns with the real-world implementation of these rules. Among those concerns included instances of patients harmed, receipt of duplicative or improper prescription verification requests, experiences related to incorrect or unauthorized contact lenses sold, and other irregularities or vulnerabilities that doctors have identified with the system. These member concerns were included in the formal comments submitted to the FTC.

"On behalf of patients and based on our mission of caring for America's eye health, the AOA is insisting that basic public health safeguards be made the number one priority as Federal officials review existing regulations and the business practices of unscrupulous Internet sellers," said Steven A. Loomis, O.D., president of the American Optometric Association. "Through comments we submitted today and every stage of this process to come, the AOA will be helping to ensure that the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and members of Congress all recognize the urgent need for a crackdown on illegal, improper and deceptive sales tactics taking hold on the Internet and putting eye health at risk."

At the urging of concerned AOA doctors from across the country, U.S. Senators and House members are weighing in as well, especially to express concern about the need for Federal agencies to act on complaints filed by doctors.  

In an October 8 th letter to the FTC calling for increased enforcement efforts targeting illegal contact lens sales, Senator David Perdue (R-GA) said, "The public is misled by online vendors who will sell these medical devices without requiring a prescription or with appropriately verifying a prescription with the patient's doctor."

The FTC will review all feedback from the public comment period before deciding whether to propose specific changes to the rules.

More about the FTC rules

The FTC promulgated the Contact Lens Rule in 2004, pursuant to Congressional passage of FCLCA, and is intended to facilitate the ability of consumers to comparison shop for contact lenses while ensuring that contact lenses are sold in accordance with a valid prescription. The rule requires eye care prescribers to issue a copy of a patient's prescription upon completion of a contact lens fitting, in addition to placing certain restrictions on sellers. Most of the Contact Lens Rule is required by FCLCA, and that statute is not subject to review under the FTC process.

The Eyeglasses Rule, first issued in 1978, requires eye care professionals to provide patients with a copy of their spectacles prescription at no extra cost immediately following an eye examination. This current review of the rule specifically asks three additional questions, including whether to require pupillary distance (PD), whether doctors should provide duplicate copies of prescriptions at a later date, or whether doctors should provide or verify prescriptions to "third parties authorized by the patient."

For more information contact Rodney Peele at the AOA's Washington, D.C., office, at rpeele@aoa.org.

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