AOA, affiliates work in lockstep on optometry’s priorities

December 19, 2019
Presenting at a Republican Attorneys General event, the AOA’s state government volunteers presented on patient protection enforcement and the FTC’s proposed Contact Lens Rule.
Early detection-eye exam

Aligning optometry's state and federal priorities, advocates found a receptive audience among state attorneys general in a briefing on the importance of increased contact lens marketplace enforcement.

Presenting at the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) Fall National Meeting this past November, the AOA's State Government Relations Center (SGRC), led by committee chair Christopher Wolfe, O.D., advocated for the role states' top law enforcement officials can play in reducing harmful, contact lens-related complications by holding sellers accountable to the law.

Additionally, the 26 Republican attorneys general and their senior staff heard the AOA's case against the proposed Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Contact Lens Rule revisions-as it's written-even as the commission continues to deliberate on changes that could dramatically alter the marketplace in the years to come.

"We have seen the power attorneys general can have in holding retailers employing illegal tactics accountable and AOA's SGRC has taken significant steps to make inroads with this group of legislators," says AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D. "By building these relationships, AOA and our affiliates continue to uphold the primary eye health care we deliver and the need to prosecute those who subvert the law."

Through the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA), Congress charged the FTC with enforcing contact lens prescription verification requirements. However, lax FTC enforcement of bad marketplace actors has led to a growth in illegal sales, be they vendors or sellers exploiting loopholes or willfully circumventing these protections.

Classified as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), contact lenses require a prescription from a licensed practitioner. That's because poorly fitting lenses, lax wear and care protocol, and the potential of contamination or allergic reaction from counterfeit or illegally procured lenses could cause vision-threatening complications.

In briefing the attorneys general, Dr. Wolfe says it's important to emphasize the fact that doctors of optometry treat and manage diseases that are both complex and severe, such as corneal ulcers. Moreover, it's critical to effectively tell the story of how regular, comprehensive eye care and annual contact lens evaluations can detect these problems early. In this case, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.

"In the attorneys' general mind, when we show very severe clinical pictures, they think, 'there is no way that a person with an eye that looks that bad is going to try to purchase contacts without an exam,'" Dr. Wolfe says.

"We also show them the mild signs that appear weeks or months before-when a patient is asymptomatic-that can be addressed with medications or changes in the fit or material of the lens, and how these patients could avoid severe complications."

Significantly, this dialogue resonated with the attorneys general and their staffs, even as opponents, such as 1-800 Contacts, actively worked against the AOA's patient protection and enforcement message at the RAGA meeting. This overwhelmingly positive reception makes it imperative that optometry's advocates use this opportunity to connect with their respective attorneys general, Dr. Wolfe says, and build upon these inroads.

This opportunity demonstrates not only that optometry's message is effective among such an important and influential group as states' top law enforcement officials, but also that stepped-up advocacy partnerships among the AOA and state affiliates are generating results.

"AOA doctors have been working closer with state affiliates to make connections on a national level at these events when it would be difficult to get optometric representation from each state there," Dr. Wolfe says. "We are also making connections between state associations and AGs from those states so that the state affiliates can provide any necessary follow up."

Help the AOA advocate for contact lens safety, enforcement

Have you encountered a patient harmed by counterfeit or illegally procured contact lenses, or suspect a business of selling lenses without a prescription? Better documentation of illegal contact lens sales helps make the case for increased enforcement at the federal level. Help the AOA's contact lens advocacy by reporting these examples of patient harm or illegal sales to the AOA, FTC or FDA.

For more information on suspicious contact lens retailers or incident reporting, contact the AOA's Director of Coding & Regulatory Policy Kara Webb at kcwebb@aoa.org.

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