(Press Release) ST. LOUIS — The American Optometric Association (AOA) announced its support for the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016, a bill introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D., (R-La.) to ensure more effective federal enforcement of contact lens patient health and prescription verification safeguards by targeting an array of schemes being used by unscrupulous internet sellers. The bill seeks to hold sellers accountable for deceptive, abusive and illegal sales tactics, especially those that cause patient harm and result in added health care costs.

“As a medical doctor and leader in Congress on patient health and safety, Senator Cassidy is taking decisive action to ensure that internet sellers of contact lenses who violate the law and place patients at risk will be held accountable,” says Steven A. Loomis, O.D., AOA president. “The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act and Sen. Cassidy’s leadership on this issue are good news for patients and for the cause of quality care. The AOA is proud to support the bill and will continue working to make patient safety the priority it needs to be on Capitol Hill.”

“As a physician, I value patient safety and our eye health professionals need the ability to act as good stewards of patient health, as the original Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) intended,” says Cassidy. “Safeguards like those in the FCLCA should be strengthened to preserve access to accurate information and the contact lenses patients need. The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 will provide patients with these stronger safeguards, and will modernize the way our contact lens marketplace is able to work. I appreciate the commitment of the Optometric Association of Louisiana, the American Optometric Association, and the broader Coalition to protecting patients’ eye health; I look forward to working together to ensure the FTC takes into account public health as it reviews the FCLCA.”

Many contact lens wearers decide to purchase their lenses online through internet mass retailers. As a patient health safeguard, the FCLCA requires online sellers to verify the validity of contact lens prescriptions with the patient’s doctor before fulfilling an order. Eye doctors and patients have been reporting that some internet sellers are not following these health and safety requirements in the law and are placing patients needlessly at risk.

The AOA-backed S. 2777 focuses on strengthening the patient health safeguards of the FCLCA that have been undermined and, in certain cases even ignored, by unscrupulous internet contact lens sellers. It offers a pro-patient approach based on the importance of contact lenses as a medical device, including:

  • Holding sellers accountable for illegal sales tactics and false claims, and make increased enforcement to safeguard public health a priority for the Federal Trade Commission
  • Establishing a live patient safety hotline allowing doctors to provide sellers with patient health information and ensure that the doctor-patient relationship is respected
  • Banning use by internet sellers of disruptive automated “robocalls” into doctors’ offices as the mechanism for verifying patient prescription information, and allowing doctors to choose live phone calls or emails from sellers instead
  • Ensuring contact lenses must be dispensed exactly as the prescription is written by the doctor
  • Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the public health and health care cost impact of internet seller abuses
  • Increasing fines to sellers to $40,000 per infraction

Complaints from doctors of optometry and other eye doctors (ophthalmologists) and consumers from across the country have raised concern that some internet sellers do not properly verify prescriptions, overfill orders, fill expired prescriptions or fill orders with lenses other than those that were prescribed. A 2015 consumer survey1 found that among contact lens patients who ordered their lenses online:

  • One in four have reported receiving a different contact lens brand than prescribed by their eye doctor, without any advance warning;
  • One in three have had their online retailer advise them to substitute a non-prescribed lens due to supply issues; and
  • One in three were able to purchase lenses using an already expired prescription.

Although safe and effective, contact lenses are a medical device and improper use can lead to serious health complications, including infections and other sight threatening conditions. In 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that concluded that annually there are nearly 1 million emergency room and urgent doctor visits and about $175 million is added to health care costs arising from keratitis, an infection linked to improper contact lens use.

In 2015, one large internet mass retailer began using an automatically pre-checked box on its order forms designating the company as the patient’s “agent” for future contact lens purchases. This deceptive tactic remained in force until it was exposed by the AOA.

In spite of mounting doctor and patient complaints about abuses by unscrupulous sellers and recent pro-enforcement statements from more than three dozen members of Congress, the AOA is concerned about the unnecessary added risks being faced, and will be urging senators to support Senator Cassidy and the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act.

1From Sept. 24-Oct. 2, 2015, APCO Insight conducted an online quantitative survey among 500 U.S. consumers who have purchased contacts online in the last six months, on behalf of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.

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