AOA promotes consumer choice, patient safety protections
The AOA took its advocacy on behalf of patients and the American public to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to provide congressional staffers with an update on what is working and what isn't in the current contact lens market.
While today's contact lens market is full of new products and healthy competition, AOA made clear that there are a growing number of instances of deceptive, abusive, and misleading sales tactics by some online contact lens retailers.
Examples of these behaviors include dispensing based on expired or non-existent prescriptions, overfilling prescriptions, and providing patients with lenses other than those prescribed to them by their eye doctor.
These irresponsible practices not only place contact lens sellers which do follow the law at a competitive disadvantage, but they also disrupt the doctor-patient relationship, deceive the public, and can harm patient vision and eye health.
"Online contact lens retailers are increasingly putting patients at risk by selling contact lenses without a prescriptions or shipping contact lenses based on an expired or otherwise invalid prescription," said Andrea P. Thau, O.D., President AOA. "That's why the AOA and its partners are backing the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (S. 2777/H.R. 6157) to put an end to the deceptive, abusive, and misleading sales tactics by some online contact lens retailers."
About 80 Hill staffers, from various House and Senate offices, attended the standing-room only briefing on Oct. 25. The event, "21 st Century Contact Lens Policy-Promoting Consumer Choice while Protecting Patient Health," was sponsored by the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety.
The coalition consists of manufacturers, eye care doctors, clinical organizations and trade associations that seek to ensure that the patient-eye doctor relationship is preserved and protected under federal law and regulations, rather than be undermined by anti-competitive practices.
"Briefing our legislators on the scary things that we see in our practices every day is absolutely critical," says Jeffrey Sonsino, O.D., chair of the AOA's Contact Lens and Cornea Section who spoke during the briefing. "Although they are considered a safe and effective means of vision correction, contact lenses, which are medical devices, when not stored, cared for, or replaced properly can cause serious, sight threatening complications.
"The briefing of House of Representative and Senate staffers was a great opportunity to share stories of how the FCLCA ( Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act) has had some pretty horrific unintended consequences resulting in harm to patients," said Sonsino, who presented at the briefing and practices in Nashville, Tennessee.
Moderated by R. E. Weisbarth, O.D., Alcon, the briefing covered contact lenses, contact lens policy, and how best to protect patient health while maintaining a competitive marketplace. During the discourse, a panel laid out the irresponsible and dangerous activities undertaken by online retailers. Besides Sonsino, the panel included Michelle L. Andrews, O.D., CooperVision, and Carol L. Alexander, O.D., Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.
Dr. Sonsino noted during the briefing that "these companies and their tactics disregard the patient protections put in place by the 2004 FCLCA. They are undermining, anti-competitive and pose a clear and present danger to patient health."
One of the largest online contact lens retailers, 1-800 CONTACTS, was recently sued by the Federal Trade Commission for stifling competition and escalating prices. In its complaint, the FTC alleges that the company operated a web of anti-competitive agreements that "had the purpose, capacity, tendency and likely effect of restraining competition unreasonably and injuring consumers."
Introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) and John Boozman, O.D. (R-Ark.) and Reps. Pete Olson (R-Texas) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), S. 2777/H.R. 6157 calls for bolstering patient safety requirements, increasing accountability for internet contact lens sales and reinforcing the distinction that contact lenses are medical devices and should be treated that way.
While preserving key aspects of the FCLCA, the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act would also make much-needed changes to the FCLCA to address deceptive, abusive, and misleading sales tactics by some online contact lens retailers.
The bill would ensure that sellers are held accountable for dispensing expired or non-existent prescriptions, for overfilling prescriptions, and for providing patients with lenses other than those prescribed to them by their eye doctor. The bill would also require sellers to set-up a dedicated hotline to help doctors submit questions or concerns with the seller. Finally, the bill would also allow doctors to choose an alternate communication method so that small business health care practices are no longer flooded with automated "robocalls" into their offices as the mechanism for verifying prescription information.
To learn more about this bill and how you can take action to help build support for this key legislation, visit the AOA's Online Legislative Action Center or contact Matt Willette of the AOA's Washington DC office.
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