U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) recently called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to change regulations on eyeglasses prescriptions to promote competition in the eyecare industry and lower prices on eyewear.
Washington, DC-U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) recently called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to change regulations on eyeglasses prescriptions to promote competition in the eyecare industry and lower prices on eyewear.
Schumer cites $300 as the average price for glasses and says the average American is now struggling to afford the price. He says current regulations limit competition because they do not require eyecare providers (ECPs) to provide complete prescriptions to patients or to verify prescription information to third-party dispensers and that this omission can limit consumer choice and lead to higher prices. Schumer believes that consumers should have the ability to shop around in search of a more affordable price and not be limited to the eyeglasses offered in the store where they get their eye exam.
“Eyeglasses are a necessity for millions of Americans, yet sky-high prices are making them unaffordable,” he says. “We need more oversight when it comes to the cost of eyeglasses, and one way to do that is to require patients get their full prescriptions so they can shop around in stores and online for the best deal. Consumers need more options when it comes to eyeglasses and that's why the FTC should update the 'Eyeglass Rule' in a way that helps spur competition and dramatically lower prices.”
Next: Schumer's proposed changes
Schumer is pushing for the following changes to the FTC Eyeglass Rule:
• Require ECPs to provide complete eyeglass prescription information to patients, including specifics like pupillary distance
• Require ECPs to verify prescription information for third-party sellers in a reasonable time, “allowing a consumer to take their prescription wherever they desire with the confidence of getting the right eyeglasses at the right price”
• Require eyeglasses prescriptions to last longer than one year, “so consumers have more time to comparison shop”
"I feel Senator Schumer maybe a little misinformed here,” says Optometry Times Chief Optometric Editor Ernie Bowling, OD, FAAO. “There are lots of online retailers available to the public. I really don't see competition or consumer choice in eyewear to be an issue right now.
“When discussing the information needed to fill a prescription, we are really talking about the spectacle PD. I give the PD to every patient as part of his written prescription,” says Dr. Bowling. “I don't think it's worth alienating a patient over a PD. But we do educate the patient about their choices in eyewear. There is a huge service component that goes in to measuring and fitting spectacles that you're not getting with an online retailer.”
Schumer says that the FTC’s regulations should take advantage of innovations in e-commerce to facilitate comparison shopping and competition.
“Of course, the Commission should be mindful that there may be unscrupulous online retailers who try to take advantage of American consumers by offering cheap, low-quality eyewear,” the senator warns in his open letter to the FTC. “As the Commission considers updates to its rule, it must ensure that the changes protect high-quality, legitimate online providers without encouraging the bad actors.”
“I am not familiar with all of the details surrounding this matter, but I am concerned about any new rule that would suggest to consumers that they don't need to see their eye doctor every year,” says Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, senior vice president of customer development, Essilor of America. “Eye health is critically important to quality of life and seeing your eye doctor annually is a critical part of eye health and potentially general health, irrespective of whether it is in conjunction with purchasing eye wear.”
Next: Schumer calls out Luxottica's "monopoly-like hold"
In his statement, Schumer also cited Luxottica as a reason for high eyewear prices.
“Luxoticca, an Italian company, which owns LensCrafters and more than 80 percent of eyewear brands. For instance, Luxoticca makes frames for well-known brands like Burberry, Prada, and Tory Burch,” the statement reads. “In addition, Luxoticca owns several other popular American eyeglass chains such as Pearle Vision, Sears Optical and Target Optical. Schumer explained that Luxoticca has a monopoly-like hold over the eyewear industry and that this push, along with other actions, could help weaken this hold.”
Luxottica issued the following statement to Optometry Times regarding Schumer’s comments:
“We were surprised to see how Senator Schumer presented our business and our industry in his public statement regarding the FTC’s eyeglass rule. The optical industry is highly competitive and fragmented today,” the statement reads. “Industry data has consistently shown that Luxottica’s share of eyeglass frame sales in the U.S. is below 20 percent. Moreover, the top 50 optical retailers combined account for only about a third of all U.S. eyeglasses sales.”
Next: AOA responds
American Optometric Association (AOA) President-Elect Andrea Thau, OD, attended Schumer’s press conference and asked the senator if he could look inot the control of the market that some eyewear companies have-including some providers that also sell glasses.
“There’s a lot of control within the industry that is almost a vertical monopoly,” Dr. Thau told Schumer. The senator told Dr. Thau he would investigate.
Dr. Thau also warned Schumer that purchasing glasses online can be very risky for the consumer.
“Prescription eyeglasses from China are often filled incorrectly, and about a quarter of the children’s glasses aren’t shatter resistant,” Dr. Thau told the senator. “American standards for glasses are very high. If you go overseas, let the buyer beware.”
In related news, the AOA is currently working on formal comments for the FTC’s 10-year review of its “Contact Lens Rule,” which is seeking public comments on the regulations. AOA President Steve Loomis, OD, recently informed AOA members that the process allows the AOA and individual doctors to make the commission aware of their concerns with the existing contact lens rule by providing the FTC with specific information on the existing problems of the real-world implementation of the passive verification system and the contact lens sales process in general. The deadline for public comments on the Contact Lens Rule is Oct. 26, 2015.