1-800 Contacts is ramping up its fight against organized optometry at the state and federal levels over legislation that would change important aspects of contact lens prescriptions and dispensing, such as longer expiration dates, elimination of contact lens brand on the Rx, and enacting a contact lens patient bill of rights.
1-800 Contacts began by taking aim at contact lens prescribers by backing bills around the country that would have blocked unilateral pricing policies (UPP) on contact lenses. The company is now working to extend contact lens prescriptions to up to five years and possibly prevent ODs from selling contact lenses.
American Optometric Association President Steve Loomis, OD, says he suspected that 1-800 Contacts attack on UPP was just the beginning and that the company and other online contact lens retailers had bigger plans in mind.
Going big in Arizona
As evidence of 1-800 Contacts’ bigger plans, Dr. Loomis points to Arizona’s HB 2523. While at least 14 states across the country have faced 1-800 Contacts-backed legislation, the company was particularly aggressive in Arizona.
Annette Hanian, OD, Arizona Optometric Association (AZOA) legislative chair, says that after the company tried—and failed—to stop UPP in Arizona in 2015, it came back with bigger demands. During the latest legislative session, Dr. Hanian says 1-800 Contacts worked on a number of bills, although HB 2523 was the only one that made it as far as a committee hearing.
“1-800 Contacts talked about everything from no brands and no prescription expiration dates at all—that was their ultimate goal,” she says.
She says that the company also originally wanted the bill to specify that optometrists could not sell the contact lenses they prescribed.
Over the course of the legislative session, Dr. Hanian says the bill was whittled down to a five-year Rx expiration date, then finally to a three-year expiration date. However, that three–year date had strings attached.
“The bill that was finally introduced was [an expiration of] three years, plus if a patient tried to refill within the last two months of the prescription—so two years and 10 months—then a contact lens dispenser could fill the prescription for the shelf life expiration date of the lenses,” she says. “So, if the dispenser had contact lenses that didn’t expire for another three years, the patient could order an additional three years.”
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1-800 Contacts general councel Cindy Williams, speaking exclusively with Optometry Times, says that the bill was about giving consumers a choice. While the optometric community argues that prescriptions longer than one year are dangerous to patients’ ocular health, Williams maintains that denying patients access to an affordable way to purchase their lenses is a bigger danger.
“If patients don’t have an affordable option, they tend to stretch their lenses beyond the recommended wearing schedule,” she says.
Both sides put up an intense fight.
Dr. Hanian says 1-800 Contacts brought in nine lobbying firms and a public relations company throughout the course of the session, and the aggressive approach was gaining the company support.
“1-800 Contacts held a press conference and called us ‘economic monsters,’” says Dr. Hanian. “The most egregious thing 1-800 Contacts did was—the day before our Senate government hearing—lob off more than 3,200 complaints against optometrists who had failed to release prescriptions to the state board. It was just a publicity stunt.”
(The Arizona Board of Optometry did not respond to Optometry Times’ request for comment on the number or nature of the complaints.)
Ultimately, the bill was defeated in the Commerce Committee with a 6-2 vote in February 2016.