Optometry's grassroots efforts made sure that Congress returns to Capitol Hill post-recess with added perspective and understanding of AOA-backed federal priorities. But are you familiar with these issues?
Internet contact lens sellers' schemes, tactics
The AOA has aggressively fought for a crackdown on online contact lens sellers' deceptive tactics that ultimately put patients in harm's way, and new legislation in the Senate would provide just that.
Introduced by Senators Bill Cassidy (R - LA) and John Boozman, O.D., (R - AR), the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act, S. 2777, aims to strengthen existing patient health safeguards outlined by the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) that have been undermined by unscrupulous internet contact lens sellers, such as:
- Selling contact lenses without proper prescription verification
- Overfilling orders
- Filling orders with expired prescriptions
- Substituting with non-prescribed lenses
Such commonsense changes are a long-time coming as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) undergoes its scheduled 10-year review of the Contact Lens Rule. AOA submitted formal comments in October 2015 to the FTC, stressing a need to fix the broken passive verification system and curbing online sellers' misleading marketing ploys.
AOA's robust, persistent pressure is causing one such online contact lens seller—1-800 Contacts—to flinch, as the company recently filed papers to set up its own political action committee (PAC) with the aim of winning new supporters on Capitol Hill.
Despite 1-800 Contacts' role as a leading proponent of the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice—fighting against S. 2777— the company is embroiled in an FTC lawsuit alleging it unlawfully used its market power to orchestrate and maintain anti-consumer agreements with rival online contact lens retailers. The FTC's complaint stated these agreements actually resulted "in some consumers paying higher retail prices for contact lenses."
It's the voices of doctors and students—like you—that crucially provide perspectives to help bolster AOA's ongoing federal advocacy for optometry.
Members of Congress convene Sept. 6 to close out the second half of the 2016 session, making it vital that doctors of optometry and students take the opportunity to connect with their representatives. Here are the top federal concerns that AOA—its volunteers, AOA Federal Keypersons and affiliates—continue to voice as legislators make their way back to Capitol Hill.
Curbing abusive health, vision plan policies
Restrictive health and vision plan policies do a disservice to patient care and handcuff doctors of optometry to anti-competitive business practices—and it's gone on long enough. That's why AOA continues coordinated advocacy efforts to outlaw abusive policies that prove monopsonistic, leading to higher overall costs.
To ensure doctors and patients reap the full benefits of states' nondiscrimination and other efforts aimed at reforming health and vision plan abuses, AOA and the American Dental Association back the Dental and Optometric Care Act (DOC Access Act), H.R. 3323, to complement state laws and ban such abuses by federally regulated (ERISA) plans. The law prohibits:
- Forced participation in a vision plan as a condition for health plan participation
- Limits on a doctor's choice of lab
- Non-covered services and materials mandates
Some plans are already changing tone under pressure from AOA; however, others still vehemently oppose these reforms, even going so far as trying to mislead doctors into casting doubt on this legislation. Such plans have resorted to telling Congress that they, not AOA, understand and speak for the nation's frontline eye doctors.
Health risks of online "eye exams"
Federal legislation aside, AOA also continues to actively combat the misinformation and false claims disseminated by so-called online "eye exams," including educating the public, as well as members of Congress and federal agencies.
Recently, AOA's patient health and safety concerns were illustrated on "Good Morning America" when a "GMA" Investigates segment took Opternative's claims to task and found AOA's stance validated. An informal evaluation found the device entirely missed a volunteer's elevated intraocular pressure, prompting an unaffiliated ophthalmologist to acknowledge the public health threat from delaying timely care.
Featured in the "GMA" segment, comments from AOA President Andrea P. Thau, O.D., certainly proved a word to the wise: "This is really foolhardy and dangerous. It is taking a risk because you're doing one small fraction of the whole eye exam with a potential for missing things that can be very significant to your eye health and your systemic health."
The national media spotlight follows a litany of states enacting patient safeguard legislation to block online "eye exams," and AOA's own formal complaint to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that contends the device is not only inferior and inaccurate, but also misleadingly marketed unlawfully.
AOA continues to successfully build support for greater federal action
With members of Congress working in their districts throughout August, AOA and state associations have launched a summertime full-court press aimed at updating key U.S. Senators and House members about the information the FDA has about Opternative.
On Aug. 3, AOA Trustee and Federal Keyperson, Jim DeVleming, O.D., briefed his congressional representative, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Republican Conference, about AOA's concerns and the complaint itself. For added impact, Dr. DeVleming was joined by Steven A. Loomis, O.D., AOA immediate past president, who oversaw the complaint's drafting and formally submitted it to FDA officials.
"Leaders of the Optometric Physicians of Washington have provided me with a copy of their complaint to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding Opternative's new testing device," said Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers. "They have outlined why they see the potential for the public to be misled and why they've asked for enforcement action. While we must continue to support technological innovations in the medical field, the health and safety of patients should be our No. 1 priority. I believe it is of the utmost importance to fully understand how the FDA intends to respond, and what actions they may take in the future to ensure compliance with the law."
AOA members can help sustain this fight by reporting any patient issues or complications stemming from online "eye exams" to Kara Webb, AOA associate director for coding & regulatory policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in action: How doctors can help
It's the voices of doctors and students—like you—that crucially provide the patient care and professional perspectives to help bolster AOA's ongoing federal advocacy for optometry. Make an effort to connect with your U.S. Senators and House members today as lawmakers prepare to finish out the current session.
AOA's Online Legislative Action Center offers members an easy-to-use reference base for current federal priorities, complete with additional information and the ability to send electronic letters directly to lawmakers, urging their support.
And don't forget—AOA-PAC is one of the most effective ways for a doctor of optometry to participate in the political process. Through AOA-PAC, optometry has gained national prominence as a political force.
AOA-led effort builds Congressional support for the DOC Access Act, delivering in-person briefings for members of Congress and strong backing from the American Dental Association and national pro-patient groups.
Already the subject of one complaint to the IRS, the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians (NAOO), a lobbying “front” for large optical retailers, was called out to legislators for deceptive tactics and seeking a self-serving overhaul of patient health and safety standards. The AOA follows up on winning activism of South Carolina doctors with a new push for a federal investigation of NAOO tax exempt status.
The first of two Medicare sequester cuts loom on the horizon for doctors’ pay with additional cuts anticipated later this year. How AOA and others are working to avert an impending fiscal cliff.