Proposed state legislation doesn’t address patient safety

January 30, 2015
Optometry works to support proper contact lens care for patients

State affiliates and the AOA are working to oppose legislation supported by 1-800 Contacts that would ban unilateral pricing policies (UPP) for contact lenses. Any prohibition against these policies could exacerbate problems within the online contact lens industry, AOA experts say.

"The impact of a bill that is written to benefit a select few companies at the expense of our patients compelled our members to get involved..."

"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 last summer. "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."

Contact lens manufacturers that employ UPP set a minimum resale price without an agreement with resellers. It means they can refuse to sell to any reseller that sells below the announced price. UPP applies to all retailers, including optometric practices. While UPP does apply to other types of products, this particular legislation only applies to the UPP for contact lenses. 

The AOA recently learned of legislative efforts by Utah-based 1-800 Contacts in at least 14 states to pass legislation that would prohibit UPP for contact lenses.

Legislation doesn't address patient safety

In the AOA's view, such legislation does not address issues of public health and patient care.

"Legislation to eliminate UPP for contact lenses does nothing to address serious safety concerns, and could potentially endanger patients," says Deanna Alexander, O.D., chair of the AOA's State Government Relations Committee.

AOA President-elect Steven A. Loomis, O.D., calls these actions "an unprecedented attack on the doctor-patient relationship, and we're fighting back hard against it."

A study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last November found that at least 1 million Americans seek medical care every year because of keratitis, an infection of the cornea that's often associated with improper contact lens care. In other research, one study found that those who purchase contact lenses through an online retailer are more likely to develop keratitis.

AOA asks for state affiliate support

The AOA is working with state affiliates to oppose any attempt to pass this legislation. Legislation has been introduced in Mississippi. After reviewing the legislation and consulting with the AOA, representatives from the Mississippi Optometric Association (MOA) said their organization could not support the bills.

"The impact of a bill that is written to benefit a select few companies at the expense of our patients compelled our members to get involved with this proposal and see that it does not become law," says Megan Lott, O.D., MOA's legislative chair.

MOA Executive Director Linda Ross Aldy adds, "The history of violations of Internet sellers on verification of prescriptions is hard to ignore."

Doctors have reported violations

The federal government recognizes contact lenses as medical devices—rather than as a commodity—and regulates their sale under the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA). The act ensures patient choice and a level playing field in purchasing contact lenses.

The FCLCA requires Internet sellers to verify a prescription. However, some doctors have reported that online sellers are ignoring the law and exposing patients to potential harm. Although the Federal Trade Commission has investigated Internet retailers such as 1-800 Contacts and others for prescription verification abuses, doctors say they continue to see violations.

According to the AOA, 1-800 Contacts has refused calls from members of Congress to establish a patient safety hotline so that doctors can share patient information—similar to when a doctor can speak to a pharmacist about prescription medication.

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