AOA to FTC: Prioritize patient safety

March 6, 2018
Dozens of doctors of optometry and students are in the nation’s capital to uphold patient safety and battle a misguided federal agency proposal.
Federal Trade Commission Contact Lens Workshop

Dozens of doctors of optometry and optometry students, representing the 41 million contact lens patients across the U.S., are headed to the nation's capital to uphold patient safety and battle a misguided federal agency proposal targeting doctors—doctors of optometrys and ophthalmologists—providing essential care, while permitting online mass retailers to continue to undermine medically recognized quality care standards.

“The AOA and our member doctors and students from every state will be in the nation’s capital in force to deliver our message loud and clear.”

Coming in from all 50 states, the doctors and future doctors are converging on a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) public forum to demand immediate relief from the government's threat to impose costly and burdensome new mandates on small and mid-sized health care practices, and to insist on a crackdown on illegal contact lens sales and underhanded sellers who are exploiting the public.    

The FTC regulatory forum, convening March 7 to examine the Contact Lens Rule, is assembling marketplace stakeholders and federal regulators to explore issues regarding the contact lens marketplace, patient access, prescription release and portability, and patient health and safety concerns. The AOA and our nation's eye doctors are attending the workshop in force to ensure that patients and their well-being will not be ignored by agency officials.

Patient advocacy in action

The AOA has long held that the FTC's Contact Lens Rule changes weaken the doctor-patient relationship, place needless, burdensome requirements on America's eye doctors and ultimately ignore the clear and present threat posed by those online contact lens retailers who are subverting the current laws. During the workshop, AOA and the collected voices of health care will work together to ensure that what is best for the patient is the top priority.

Since the FTC first published its proposed changes in the Federal Register on Nov. 10, 2016, AOA and advocates have tirelessly worked to educate lawmakers and ensure this harmful mandate is abandoned altogether. Further reinforcing optometry's position, 73 U.S. senators and House members—48 Republicans, 25 Democrats—have asked the FTC to withdraw its Contact Lens Rule proposal, in virtually every case because they agree that it is costly, burdensome and fails to make patient safety a priority.

"A massive regulatory attack on doctors that could saddle a single physician practice with nearly $18,000 every year in new compliance costs is unacceptable to the AOA and the patients across America that our doctors serve," says AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D. "Doctors are following the law and want government agencies to take action against the real problem at hand—those online retailers who have been found to be lowering quality care standards for medical devices, using deceptive sales tactics and placing the public needlessly at risk. That's why the AOA and our member doctors and students from every state will be in the nation's capital in force to deliver our message loud and clear."

Each attending doctor is armed with real-life patient experiences from the frontlines of essential eye health and vision care. They are putting the patient's face and story forward to make sure that regulatory agencies and the public understand that companies that employ deceptive business practices placing profit over patient health are putting contact lens patients needlessly at risk.

Multiple agencies and thought leaders are participating in the workshop, furthering optometry's message. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and health care providers including two AOA representatives—David A. Cockrell, O.D., AOA past president, and Zachary McCarty, O.D., AOA Quality Improvement and Registries Committee chair—and Thomas Steinemann, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, MetroHealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, are speaking during panel discussions to reinforce that contact lenses are regulated medical devices, and that the doctor-patient relationship is at the heart of quality patient care. Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety charter members, Johnson & Johnson Vision and CooperVision also will contribute to panel discussions.

Patient advocates have consistently voiced their concerns regarding online contact lens retailers' deceptive practices. Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, detailed her experience in a 2016 op-ed:

"As a consumer advocate, I worry that internet-based contact lens mass retailers sometimes use aggressive sales tactics more fitting of general consumer products than of prescription lenses. Purchasing contact lenses online is convenient and you can get some great deals for sure, but consumers who bypass the involvement of a doctor of optometry in their eye care, in my view, do so at a serious risk."

To further reinforce the patients' collective voice, one New York patient is sharing her story with the FTC and the New York attorney general, compelling those who are meant to protect patients to do just that. Detailing her story in an official complaint to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assistant Attorney General Robert Hubbard, who is participating in the workshop, Brooklyn patient Rachel H. asked her representatives to take her story to heart and to take steps to protect contact lens patients from deceptive online retailers.

"The majority of contact lens patients (83%) want regulators to stay out of their doctor-patient relationship," says Dr. Quinn. "We need to identify actions we can take together to hold the deceptive online contact lens sellers responsible and advance patient care."

Miss the Workshop?

The FTC workshop can be viewed online webcast on the FTC's website. Read more about AOA's 2017 advocacy efforts in the November/December 2017 edition of AOA Focus.

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