AOA steps up fight against 1-800 Contacts anti-patient legislation

February 19, 2015
Rhode Island, Arizona among state affiliates working hard to try to defeat bills

In its ongoing fight against 1-800 Contacts' efforts that interfere with critical patient safety and public health safeguards while maligning individual doctors of optometry and the wider profession, the AOA is stepping up its call to action among state affiliates.

Utah-based 1-800 Contacts has proposed legislation in at least 14 states to prohibit unilateral pricing policies (UPP) for contact lenses by downplaying serious patient safety and public health concerns and negatively painting optometry and the care that doctors of optometry provide to patients. As a result, the AOA and state affiliates are opposing this legislation, noting that it fails to combat rampant problems within the online contact lens industry and does not adequately address public health and patient safety concerns.

On top of collaborating with and updating state affiliates on the situation, the AOA has also been quick to respond to attacks on optometry from 1-800 Contacts. At a recent hearing held by Washington state lawmakers, representatives from 1-800 Contacts called concerns about serious health risks "bogus" and implied that doctors of optometry were engaging in unethical or even illegal activity.

"There's been a long history in our industry of contact lens manufacturers trying to financially induce, some might say bribe, doctors of optometry to prescribe their brand of contact lenses by promising to shield them from retail competition by discounters," said Garth Vincent, general counsel for 1-800 Contacts. These include "bogus claims of health risks, that there was somehow a danger in buying from discounters for which it turned out there was no valid scientific or clinical support," Vincent said.

After 30 years in practice, AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D., sees these attacks on optometry's professional ethics, judgment and dignity "as the most serious threat ever to the bond we've established with our patients and the public perception of optometric care. Together, we can fight back and win for our patients, our practices and our profession."

Patient safety is a top priority

At the 2015 Volunteer Meeting in early February, AOA leaders reassured members that they would be working with state affiliates to confront this issue head-on. They also provided advice and encouragement to affiliates as they continue to fight back against attacks on the profession.

Ensuring patient safety is a top priority, said Deanna Alexander, O.D., State Government Relations Committee (SGRC) chair. She is spearheading her volunteer committee's efforts to inform state leaders and help doctors connect with their legislators in each of the states 1-800 Contacts is now targeting. 

"Like so many of my colleagues, I've seen how contact lens abuses can harm patients. These are stories that need to be told now so that the problem doesn't get worse," Dr. Alexander said. "The doctor-patient relationship must be protected, and that's why these anti-optometry bills must be defeated.

State affiliates fight back

AOA affiliates in several states where such legislation has been introduced are fighting back. In Arizona, doctors of optometry are concerned "that the contact lens prescriptions they write get dispensed accurately to the patient from wherever the purchase is made," says Annette Hanian, O.D., legislation chair of the Arizona Optometric Association (AZOA).

"We don't want to see medical devices being treated solely as a commodity in the marketplace," she says. "Our concern at the legislature, as it is in our offices, is with patient safety."

She adds that it's the job of the AZOA to educate state representatives about the nature of contact lenses and the fitting process, "so that they can make an informed decision about UPP and how it could affect Arizonans."

"We cannot stand by and let big businesses put corporate profits ahead of our patients' visual health," says Paul Zerbinopoulos, O.D., past president of the Rhode Island Optometric Association and a member of SGRC. Studies have shown that contact lens wearers who purchase lenses from online retailers "are less likely to follow federally recognized hygiene standards, and more likely to develop corneal complications," Dr. Zerbinopoulos says.

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