Contact lens protection bill continues momentum in House

October 11, 2016

A companion bill to S. 2777 aims to hold online sellers of contact lenses accountable for deceptive or illegal sales tactics that may threaten patient health.

A companion bill to S. 2777 aims to hold online sellers of contact lenses accountable for deceptive or illegal sales tactics that may threaten patient health. The U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 6157) legislation at the end of  September.

Related: FTC sues 1-800 Contacts, but not for the reasons you think

S. 2777 was introduced to the Senate in April 2016 by Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA).

Identical to S. 2777, H.R. 6157 was introduced by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) right before the House adjourned until mid-November.

Melissa Kelly, communications director for Rep. Olson, says the main point of introducing the bill at this stage of the year was to get started as soon as possible.

“It improved upon the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) by cracking down on illegal sales tactics and making increased enforcement to safeguard public health a priority for the Federal Trade Commission,” she says.

Related: 5 lens care tips for traveling patients

Optometry Times Editorial Advisory Board member David I. Geffen, OD, FAAO, says that it’s about time the contact lens industry saw some accountability.

“Big business which uses deceptive tactics to entice consumers to put their eye health at risk needs to be taken seriously,” he says. “Pretending to be consumer friendly by providing low-cost lenses is a deceptive tactic.”

 

Patient health at the forefront

Both bills call for more effective federal enforcement of contact lens patient health and prescription verification safeguards. They intend to make it safer for patients to obtain the proper contact lenses based on their current prescription.

“This bill not only ensures stronger safeguards for patients, but it also sends a message to sellers that illegal tactics and false claims that put patient health at risk will not be permitted,” says Rep. Olson in a statement. “I'm encouraged by the support for this bill and look forward to working with Rep. Castor and Sen. Cassidy toward passage on behalf of contact lens patients nationwide.”

Related: Opternative and 1- 800 Contacts: Two wrongs don’t make a right

S. 2777 and H.R. 6157 look to strengthen patient health safeguards of the 2004 Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act. The legislation would:

• Hold retailers accountable for illegal sales tactics and false claims, and make defending the public’s health a priority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

• A live patient safety hotline will be established allowing doctors to provide retailers with patient health information and ensure that the doctor-patient relationship is respected

• Internet retailers will no longer be able to place automated calls into doctors' offices as a way to verify patient’s Rx information, and allow doctors to choose a live phone call or email from retailers instead

• Certify that contact lens prescriptions are full-filled exactly as the prescription is written by the doctor

• U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be directed to study the public health and healthcare costs along with the impact of Internet retailer abuse.

• Retailers who violate the legislation could face penalties up to $40,000 per offense

“H.R. 6157 is long overdue,” says Dr. Geffen. “Treating contact lenses as just an appliance anyone can get is dangerous to both the individual and the public. When consumers are given improper lenses, they can get infections and possibly poor vision. This practice can also put the public at risk for potential accidents in their daily lives. This is like giving out a driving license without doing a driving test-dangerous.”

 

Regulating contact lens sales

Opometry Times recently reported on a CDC study that linked improper contact lens use to permanent eye damage. According to the report, one out of five contact lens-related eye infections result in permanent eye damage.

The report further confirmed the need to regulate retailers who offend the proper procedures when dispensing contact lenses.

However, 1-800 Contacts formed a coalition with Costco Wholesale and Lens.com to fight this legistation. The coalition called itself the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice.

In early October, the coalition claims that its petition has garnered more than 135,000 signatures to reject the legislation.

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"Contact lens consumers are getting exactly the same lens, whether they buy it from Costco or another in-store retailer, online, or from an optometrist,” says Richard Chavez, senior vice president of Costco Wholesale in a statement. “The only reason the American Optometric Association (AOA) is pushing this new legislation is to help its members capture more sales for themselves. If passed, this legislation would inconvenience contact lens wearers, raise prices, and harm eye health.”

According to Jeff Sonsino, OD, FAAO, chair of the AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section, FCLCA is no longer enough regulation for rogue retailers.

“At the time the FCLCA was passed, no one knew that Internet retailers would twist and contort the rules for profit at the cost of patient health,” says Dr. Sonsino. “S.2777 and H.R.6157 will reign in the behavior of these companies and protect the health of consumers and our patients.”