Article Date: 3/1/2006

o.d. to o.d.
Eat Your Cake And Have It, Too!
Newly proposed contact lens legislation could have serious consequences for you and your patients.
Chief Optometric Editor

Recently there have been new legislative efforts put forth in several states regarding the brand of contact lenses that we optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians prescribe. Not surprising, among those states is Utah. The legislation proposed in Utah as well as the other states places restrictions on contact lens prescribing. The excerpts from the Utah legislation below provide an example of these restrictions.

Protecting our patients

Under the "Contact Lens Consumer Protection Act," sponsored by Curtis S. Bramble (R) in the state of Utah, the proposed legislation states: "That licensed optometrists and ophthalmologists authorized to prescribe contact lenses may not include a brand of contact lens on a contact lens prescription unless that brand of lenses is "certified" as being available in a commercially reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner directly to, and generally within, all alternative channels of distribution."

The bill goes on to describe "alternative channels" in the following manner: "Mail order company, Internet retailer, pharmacy, buying club, department store, or mass merchandise outlet, without regard to whether it is associated with an individual authorized to prescribe contact lenses."

Do I have your attention yet? What this legislation would mean in Utah, and any other state where it might pass into law, is that the contact lens manufacturers would be required to sell their products to "alternative channels," regardless of the business practices and ethics of the individual "channel." Furthermore, the contact lens manufacturers would be required to certify to the state attorneys general that the lenses they manufacture are in fact available to "alternative channels." 

Professional restrictions

Now, this means that before we can write any contact lens prescription, we must check the Web site for the state attorneys general and see if a particular contact lens is certified. If it's not, get ready to refit your patient and prescribe a different lens or you'll find yourself in violation of a state law, which under the proposed legislation in Utah, would be considered unprofessional conduct.

The state optometric associations, and the American Optometric Association, as well as representatives from the major contact lens manufacturers, have been present in the states to reinforce their position. They believe that this proposed legislation isn't in the best interest of the patients; it probably wouldn't survive a test of what's constitutional; it restricts trade across state lines and is a contradiction of free market society.

A familiar face

And who's behind these legislative efforts? Well let's see, did I mention that Utah is one of the states involved?

This type of legislation has been defeated in several states already. It's still alive in a few and I'm sure will be proposed in yet others. Whether these pieces of proposed legislation become law is up to you and I as individual optometrists, not just the contact lens manufacturers, the legislators or the self-serving "alternative channel" behind these efforts. One thing is for sure, the "alternative channels" have everyone's attention because once again they are on the offensive.

My hope is that every optometrist recognizes the need to actively communicate with legislators on issues such as this. Otherwise, in the future, optometry may be considered "the alternative channel."

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2006