As the Senate grappled with the introduction of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Republican offering to replace the Affordable Care Act, another health-related issue was making its way around Capitol Hill under the radar. This week thousands of eyecare professionals from the American Optometric Association (AOA), a lobbying coalition representing approximately 36,000 optometrists nationwide, knocked on Capitol Hill office doors to advance their legislative priorities.
The AOA, which boasted of 5,000 members in D.C. to lobby, was attempting to drum up support for the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA), a bill introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that will crack down on the third-party sale of contact lenses.
Before a congressional rule change in 2003, eyecare professionals were not obligated to give patients copies of their prescriptions. Since optometrists and ophthalmologists both sell and prescribe contact lenses, often receiving payments for selling certain brands, this blocked competition and gave optometrists significant control over patients’ buying options.
Consumer groups convinced members of Congress this gave eye care professionals an incentive to coerce patients into purchasing expensive brands directly from their offices. The Contact Lens Rule changed this by mandating that eyecare professionals give patients copies of their prescriptions while putting them under an 8-hour time limit to veto prospective third-party lens sales.
The CLCHPA would reverse these 2003 reforms by again giving eyecare professionals an indefinite approval window to deny third-party lens sales. It would also greatly increase regulations on online sellers of lenses.
According to AOA President Andrea Thau, O.D., the lobbying effort is to ensure “access to quality care in all communities across the country and preserving the doctor-patient relationship to deliver the best care are our top priorities.”
The AOA’s eye health safety concerns come in contrast to the findings from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s one-year review of the Contact Lens Rule, released on November 2016. The Commission found that there “was no reliable empirical evidence to support a finding that [sales from alternative retailers] are contributing to an increased incidence, or increased risk, of contact lens-related eye problems.” In the report, the FTC advocated increasing enforcement of doctor compliance with the 2003 rule since close to one-third of eyecare professionals have been found to ignore the existing law.
Last year, the bill had only two co-sponsors, Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA).