WASHINGTON, April, 2016- In an effort to ensure continued consumer choice in the contact lens market, several leading national retailers announced the launch of a new coalition and advocacy campaign to serve as a voice for American contact lens consumers. The new group, the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice, will oppose legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would severely restrict where consumers can purchase their contact lenses. The group’s initial members include 1-800 Contacts, Costco Wholesale and Lens.com. Contact lens wearers, optometrists and other eye care professionals, consumer groups, good government advocacy organizations and other retailers and industry stakeholders with diverse perspectives are being invited to join the coalition.
“Contact lens consumers should be able to buy their lenses at affordable prices wherever and whenever they wish, whether online, over-the-phone or in a store,” said Brian Bethers, Chief Executive Officer of 1-800 Contacts. “This coalition will strongly resist efforts by the optometric trade association to roll back protections in current law that allow consumers to buy lenses from the retailer they choose.”
“While many of our over 52 million U.S. cardholders enjoy the convenience of examinations by independent eye doctors with offices in our warehouses, some bring us prescriptions from other doctors,” said Richard Chavez, Senior Vice President of Costco Wholesale. “They do so for the value and convenience that we offer. We want to provide those members the same seamless service that we offer in our pharmacies, without barriers thrown up by doctors who prefer that they, rather than Costco, sell our members contact lenses.”
“Consumers have had to fight for nearly two decades against the collusive efforts of optometrists and the multi-billion dollar lens manufacturers who are trying to deprive contact lens wearers of choice and lower prices,” said Cary Samourkachian, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Lens.com. “Congress stood up for consumers when they passed the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act in 2003 and should stand up for them again now by defeating the current effort to undermine it.”
Since Monday, April 18, more than 17,000 individuals have already signed a petition to Congress urging Senators and Representatives to reject the proposed legislation.
In 2003, Congress enacted the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) to address anti-competitive practices that had emerged in a contact lens market uniquely saddled with conflicts of interests. Unlike other medical professionals and industries, optometrists are allowed to sell the very products they prescribe and many are also retailers of contact lenses.
To help ameliorate the negative impacts of these conflicts on consumers, the FCLCA requires optometrists to provide their patients with a copy of their prescription without having to ask. Patients then have the option of using that prescription to purchase their contact lenses from their retailer of choice.
This system is now under threat by new legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA). The misleadingly-named Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA) (S.2777), which is being pushed by the American Optometric Association (AOA), the trade association for optometrists, would gut the FCLCA, undermining competition in the contact lens marketplace to increase profits for optometrists at the expense of consumers.
Through this new legislation, the AOA is advocating for adding new barriers to the prescription verification process. These new verification procedures would limit the ability of consumers to purchase their contact lenses from warehouse clubs, mass merchandisers, online or from other alternative retailers, which would reduce choice, increase consumer costs, and potentially jeopardize eye health.
Since the FCLCA was enacted, alternative contact lens sellers have been closely monitored by the Federal Trade Commission without any evidence of adverse consumer health effects attributed to the purchase of contact lenses from these retailers. In fact, consumers who purchase their lenses from non-prescribers actually report higher levels of compliance with manufacturers’ suggested wear guidelines, fewer instances of infections, and closer adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for healthy contact lens wear. Studies show that those same consumers see their eye care provider at the same rate as those who purchase their contacts through their eye care provider. Consumers are more likely to wear clean, fresh lenses when they are convenient to purchase and affordable.
The CLCHPA represents a blatant attempt by the optometrists’ trade association to roll back consumer protections Congress passed in 2003 in an effort to reduce competition for contact lens sales and increase profits for optometrists.
Notably, the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians, the trade association representing the retail optical industry, which includes eye care professionals who do not profit from selling what they prescribe, issued a letter to Congressional leaders this week stating its “strong opposition” to the CLCHPA.
About the Coalition
The Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice will work to:
- Protect contact lens consumers by educating the public about the benefits of the FCLCA;
- Advocate for a continued competitive contact lens marketplace that gives consumers more choice, greater convenience and lower prices; and
- Oppose efforts by the optometric trade association to gut the FCLCA in order to increase their own profits at the expense of consumers.
More information about the coalition can be found at KeepContactLensChoice.org.