Protecting Contact Lens Patients from Abuses

Protecting Contact Lens Patients From Abuses by Unscrupulous Internet Sellers

In a significant victory in Washington, DC, for ODs across the country and their patients, in the early morning hours of December 8, 2006, Congress voted down a special interest contact lens sales and distribution provision backed by a two-year, $2.2 million anti-optometry lobbying campaign undertaken by 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc., an online contact lens sales company warned by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission about non-compliance with the prescription verification safeguards included in the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA).

An extraordinary pre-adjournment effort backed by the company seeking to attach their special interest bill to unrelated and widely supported legislation designed to combat methamphetamine abuse and provide assistance to mothers and their premature babies was exposed and defeated by concerned Members of Congress, including Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Tom Allen (D-ME), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), and the AOA.

Optometry’s victory on Capitol Hill followed its successful efforts in 2006 to defeat similar contact lens “channels of distribution” bills in six states. In attempting to advance an anti-optometry and anti-patient agenda, 1-800 CONTACTS executives and lobbyists met with Members of Congress and Congressional aides over a period of several months to attack the prescribing decisions and conduct of doctors of optometry.

The AOA actively countered this misinformation campaign, and Members of Congress listened. Rejection of the 1-800 CONTACTS-backed bill, among the last acts of the December 2006 post-election “lame duck” session for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, came after a sustained grassroots effort by all of optometry to ensure that a crackdown on unscrupulous Internet contact lens sellers would be the top priority for revisions to the FCLCA.

In September 2006, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing that focused national attention on the deficient prescription verification practices of Internet contact lens sellers. Members of Congress were concerned to learn about complaints related to the nonverification of contact lens prescriptions, the overfilling of prescriptions and the use of an automated telephone “robo-call” system to contact optometry offices.

The AOA is continuing to work with the Federal Trade Commission and Members of Congress in order to hold the Internet and mail order contact lens sales industry fully accountable for illegal and abusive practices that may place patients at risk. ODs who are aware of FCLCA violations by Internet contact lens sellers are urged to contact Alicia Kerry Jones of the AOA Washington Office at (800) 365-2219 x-1373 /