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You’re Entitled to Your Contact Lens Prescription

FTC plans tighter regulation to make doctors comply

contact lens case on an eye chart

VStock RF/Getty Images

Consumers, eye doctors and companies that sell contact lenses have been arguing over the availability of prescriptions for more than a decade.

Too many eye doctors are not giving their patients a copy of their contact lens prescriptions. And that doesn’t sit well with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has required contact lens prescribers to automatically give patients a written prescription for free since 2004.

Without a prescription, consumers are unable to shop around for the best deal on their lenses. The regulatory agency also requires eye care professionals to verify or provide a prescription to any contact lens seller upon request.

After numerous consumer complaints, the FTC has issued a proposed rule requiring doctors to get a signed acknowledgment from their patients that they had received their prescriptions.

“People just don’t know about the rules, and there are some bad actors playing a few games to keep customers captive,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action, a not-for-profit consumer rights organization. The 60 percent of contact lens consumers that Consumer Action surveyed didn’t know they were entitled to a free copy of their prescription.

Consumers, eye doctors and companies that sell contact lenses have been arguing over the availability of prescriptions for more than a decade.

On one side are consumers who want to be able to comparison shop for their lenses, which they can do only if they have their prescription. Eye doctors, who are losing business to competing contact lens sellers, contend patients’ health may be jeopardized if they buy lenses from unscrupulous dealers. Online, warehouse and other contact lens sellers say consumers are unable to get lower-cost contact lenses because doctors aren’t verifying prescriptions or giving a copy to their patients.

Many eye doctors oppose the additional regulations. “The American Optometric Association has long held that the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule changes weaken the doctor-patient relationship, place burdensome requirements on America’s eye doctors and ultimately ignore online contact-lens retailers who are subverting the current laws,” says association president Christopher J. Quinn. 

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