AOA efforts on contact lens bills guided by patient health concerns

April 3, 2015
AOA keeps focus on patient safety

As legislation supported by 1-800 Contacts to ban unilateral pricing policies (UPP) for contact lenses gains attention in the media, the AOA continues to work with state associations to fight these bills and educate the public and media about optometry's patient safety message.

Utah-based 1-800 Contacts is the driving force behind bills under consideration this year in 14 states, including a bill in its home state of Utah that was approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor on March 27.

"Based on our concern about what's ahead for patients in Utah under their new law, we'll now re-double our efforts to defeat the bill in other states that have been targeted," says Deanna Alexander, O.D., who chairs the AOA's State Government Relations Committee.

AOA is helping state associations to respond quickly to inaccurate information and to highlight how the legislation fails to adequately address public health and patient safety concerns. Based on repeated attacks by the legislation's backers on the professional ethics of doctors of optometry, there's growing concern that the state-level bills may be a precursor to a new effort by some Internet contact lens sellers to try to advance their agenda in Washington, D.C. 

Dr. Alexander is seeing more and more doctors joining in the effort to inform state lawmakers and some clear successes in ensuring that elected officials, the public and key media outlets understand exactly what's at stake:

Speaking out in Utah

The AOA contacted Governor Gary Herbert to urge a veto of the 1-800 Contacts-backed bill. "It is a misguided measure that would obscure the basic fact that contact lenses are a regulated medical device, a public health safeguard long recognized in Federal law," wrote AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D. The letter noted that the bills would undermine the regulation of contact lenses and minimize the role eye doctors have in helping patients choose the right kind of lens for their needs. 

Connecting with the media

A recent New York Times article on contact lens pricing policies failed to recognize patient health and safety factors, so Dr. Cockrell wrote a letter to the editor citing AOA expert testimony offered to a U.S. Senate hearing last July.

If used improperly, contacts can have very serious negative effects on a patient's eyesight, Dr. Cockrell stressed. "For Doctors of Optometry, it's not about a particular manufacturer or price, but rather about prescribing the right lens for the patient, and providing ongoing education and monitoring regarding proper lens use to minimize complications."

Boosting state association response

In ongoing briefings and updates for state association leaders and concerned doctors who are in contact with their legislators, AOA is helping to fact-check claims being made by supporters of the 1-800 Contacts-backed bills and shape immediate responses.   

Dr. Alexander observes, "State legislators want and need accurate information on which they can base their vote on legislation that comes before them. Every optometrist can be involved right now in standing up for our patients and defending our profession."

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