One of the most exciting days of my young life was the day my parents finally considered me responsible enough to trade in my ugly, bulky glasses for contact lenses. I was a hockey goalie and struggled playing with my glasses always sliding out of position at the most critical times. Of course, learning to put in my contacts took a lot of trial and error, but I soon became accustomed to wearing them every day. Thanks to contact lenses, I have a whole new sense of freedom.
As an 11-year-old, I didn’t know it, but one of the reasons my parents had decided to let me make the jump to contact lenses was due to recent legislative changes in the contact lens industry. In 2003, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act was enacted. This new law required doctors to give patients a written copy of their prescriptions so they could have their orders filled by any contact lens vendor. Now, instead of forcing patients to purchase contact lenses at outrageous costs from their prescribing doctors, consumers have the ability to shop around for better prices.
This new law allowed existing businesses like Walmart and Costco to expand into the contact lens industry and offer their customers lenses at a discounted rate. Many new jobs were created, and consumers saved thousands of dollars each month. The law also gave birth to a large number of online retailers, creating even more competition and lower prices.
Thanks to the efficiency that sprouted up as a result of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, over 40 million Americans can now afford to purchase contact lenses each month. However, there is now a new threat in the Senate that may take away Americans’ ability to choose where, when, and with whom we make our purchases. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has recently introduced the Contact Lens Consumer Health Act (CLCHA), which will ultimately limit where consumers can shop. It will force the contacts lens industry to go back to the pre-2003 policies that protected members of the American Optometrists Association rather than the average American.
There are no health benefits to passing Sen. Cassidy’s archaic law. Existing law already requires that retail and online sellers verify prescriptions with the prescribing doctor. The doctor can call the company if there is any issue with the order. If the doctor does not file a complaint within eight hours, the prescription is filled and either picked up or mailed to the consumer.
If Sen. Cassidy’s new law is enacted, retail and online sellers will be required to wait indefinitely for a response from doctors before filling the prescription. Optometrists will have the ability to inundate sellers with requests for additional information, or worse – “pocket veto” the sale by refusing to confirm the order. They will be able to make the ordering period go on for so long the consumer will grow frustrated with the process and succumb to ordering directly from the prescribing doctor.
The doctor, of course, will be able to fill the order much quicker, but for a much higher price. Eventually, retail and online sellers will abandon the contact lens business. They will close their doors and lay off their employees. The consumer will once again have limited purchasing options and will have no choice left but to pay the doctor’s inflated prices.
Sen. Cassidy’s new law will also expand the powers of The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Very rarely does the involvement of the HHS lead to more empowerment for the American people. Just like so many times before, the HHS actions will set the stage for rampant corruption and more government free market manipulation.
The HHS will be charged with investigating all the types of contact lenses that are being sold. This mandate implies that the contact lenses purchased through online and retail stores are somehow different than the ones sold by optometrists, however, optometrists, retailers, and online stores purchase their contacts from the same manufacturers. They are made from the same identical materials on the same machines and in the same locations.
The reason more millennials than ever have the ability to purchase contact lenses is because Washington finally cut back on the red tape that was strangling the industry. Today, the Senate should be moving forward to make lenses even more affordable for our nation’s young people – not backwards to please members of the medical lobby.
Congress should take a stand for consumer choice and reject Sen. Cassidy’s Contact Lens Consumer Health Act immediately. The nation’s 40 million contact lens users are depending on the body to do so.