4 ways the FTC’s new contact lens rule impacts you

Do you wear contact lenses? If so, then you should know about a new rule that would negatively impact you and the 45 million Americans who rely on contacts to see clearly.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently finalized their Contact Lens Rule that creates new and unnecessary contact lens prescription paperwork and record-keeping mandates on small health care practices, despite opposition for years from eye doctors, medical groups and even hundreds of lawmakers.

So, what does this mean for you? Here are four ways the rule impacts patients.

1. Adds unnecessary burden to your eye doctor visit

The new rule will mean that after giving you a copy of your prescription, doctors have to ask you to acknowledge and sign a confirmation form and keep it for at least three years. The problem? Doctors were already required by law to provide patients with their prescription and now would be forced to spend money to prove it — tens of millions of dollars to be exact. Even though the FTC’s own data shows little more than 300 consumer complaints out of roughly 200 million contact lens prescriptions issued, with more than half of those unrelated to any violation of the rule.

This also comes at a time when many optometry practices have recently begun to open and are implementing new patient care and safety protocols to limit the potential spread of COVID-19, including taking precautions to avoid patients having to sign documents in-office (e.g. patient information forms and credit card receipts). The FTC’s actions show a blatant disregard for what health care providers and patients are currently experiencing in health care, all for a problem that doesn’t even exist.

2. Rolls back progress on patient safety protection

In 2004, the FTC enacted the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) requiring doctors to give patients their prescription so they can shop around for contact lenses where they choose. What was initially intended to provide patients with more purchase options, resulted in the “wild west” where hundreds of sellers flooded the marketplace to sell their products. It has also resulted in a growing number of instances of deceptive, abusive and misleading sales tactics by some online retailers.

The FTC claims that having patients sign another form after getting their prescriptions will educate patients about their rights and ensure more get their prescriptions, reducing the need for doctors to verify the prescription later. However, this practice undermines a vital patient safety check. It’s important to match your eye doctor-verified prescription to the contacts you receive, especially if an order is placed online or by phone. Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware until it’s too late.

3. Ignores dangerous, illegal sellers who violate the law

While you may think it’s cheaper and more convenient to buy contact lenses from online vendors, it’s critical to be a wise consumer. Some retailers use loopholes and do not properly follow through with the prescription verification process in conjunction with an eye doctor. Even more alarming, some are not filling the correct Rx and replacing them with other lenses that use different lens materials.

Doctors of optometry, other eye care professionals and consumers have reported hundreds of complaints of online sellers who do not properly verify prescriptions, promote large purchases far exceeding a prescription’s validity, sell lenses to consumers with expired prescriptions, or fill orders with lenses other than those that were prescribed. The FTC itself has acknowledged this practice and noted reports of eye injury from patients wearing lenses that weren’t prescribed for them. More needs to be done to curb internet retailers’ documented violations of patient health and safety laws.

4. Disrupts the doctor-patient relationship

All contact lenses, even those scary ones you wear on Halloween, require a valid prescription from an eye doctor. That’s because contact lenses are considered medical devices regulated by the federal government and are not one size fits all.

Doctors of optometry work with patients to not only pinpoint the correct prescription, but also identify the right type and fit of contact lens. Wearing contacts without the proper prescription or without consulting with an eye doctor first can cause serious damage to the eye and potentially lead to irreversible loss of vision. Not only does a comprehensive eye exam with a doctor of optometry determine whether or not your contact lens prescription is still the right one for you or has changed, it provides the opportunity to assess your overall health, eyes and beyond. They can also test for eye diseases (such as glaucoma), systemic diseases (like diabetes), peripheral vision issues and more.

For more information on contact lenses, visit AOA.org/contact-lenses. You can also find your local doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye exam.

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