AOA fights for patient safety in contact lens legislation

June 18, 2015
Optometry’s advocacy continues after court ruling clears way for Utah law.

In Utah, a law backed by 1-800 Contacts and Costco to ban unilateral pricing policies (UPP) for contact lenses has been cleared to take effect. But the AOA continues to oppose this legislation—and similar bills in other states—in the name of patient safety and the critical role of doctors of optometry.

Three major manufacturers—Alcon Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson and Bausch & Lomb—had recently sued to stop the enactment of new legislation in Utah, as legal battles over the law are ongoing. But on June 12, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver lifted an initial stay issued by the court, allowing the law to go into effect.

Nonetheless, even with its enactment, legal battles over the Utah law will continue.

So will the AOA's ongoing fight against similar bills, backed by Utah-based 1-800 Contacts. The AOA's State Government Relations Committee continues to monitor the Utah case closely and lead the advocacy charge against legislation in other targeted states.

Optometry pushes back against 1-800 Contacts

This decision comes on the heels of a successful year in which doctors of optometry from around the country worked to stop the other anti-UPP bills from becoming law. Hard work by state affiliates and the AOA means that anti-UPP legislation in six states—Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi and Washington—failed to pass this year. In Louisiana and Tennessee, no legislation was introduced because of strong lobbying by the state associations.

Anti-UPP legislation is pending in California, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island, but AOA does not anticipate any further action in 2015.

"These anti-UPP bills are an unprecedented attack on the doctor-patient relationship, which is why we've been fighting back so hard and why we're winning," says AOA President-elect Steven A. Loomis, O.D. "ODs in the impacted states and others likely to be targeted next year should remain on full alert and in close touch with state association leaders and the AOA."

The AOA opposes such bills mainly because these laws would interfere with patient safety and the doctor-patient relationship. In addition, the bills do not address problems within the Internet contact sales industry, including unscrupulous sellers who do not adhere to prescription requirements for the dispensing of contact lenses.

State affiliates and the AOA strongly object to 1-800 Contacts suggesting improper relationships between contact lens manufacturers and optometry, as well as the suggestion that UPP prompts doctors of optometry to prescribe certain contact lenses—a charge flatly rejected by the profession.

The goal of optometry is to protect the profession's role in guiding proper contact lens usage. Doctors of optometry also help patients avoid the issues that arise for improper contact lens care.

"The Internet contact lens sales industry needs to clean up its act and stop undermining public health," says AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D., who testified on this issue on Capitol Hill in 2014. "Our message to state legislatures today is the same one I've delivered personally as the AOA president to Congress and federal enforcement agencies: Unscrupulous sellers must be held accountable for exposing patients to potential harm."

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