Legislation targets prescription verification, deceptive internet sales tactics

New patient safety requirements and increased accountability for the internet contact lens sales industry are key elements of a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate to curb abuses of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA).

Internet sellers of contact lenses who violate the law and place patients at risk will be held accountable.

Introduced by Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D., of Louisiana, on Monday, S. 2777, the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 seeks to crack down on internet sales tactics and schemes that deceive the public, risk patient health and add to health care costs.

"As a medical doctor and leader in Congress on patient health and safety, Sen. Cassidy is taking decisive action to ensure that internet sellers of contact lenses who violate the law and place patients at risk will be held accountable," says Steven A. Loomis, O.D., AOA president.

The AOA-backed S. 2777 focuses on strengthening the patient health safeguards of the FCLCA that have been undermined, and in certain cases even ignored, by unscrupulous internet contact lens sellers. It offers a commonsense, pro-patient approach based on the importance of contact lenses as medical devices, including:

  • Holding sellers accountable for illegal sales tactics and false claims, and making increased enforcement to safeguard public health a priority for the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Establishing a live patient-safety hotline allowing doctors to provide sellers with patient health information and ensuring that the doctor-patient relationship is respected.
  • Banning use by internet sellers of disruptive automated "robocalls" into doctors' offices as the mechanism for verifying patient prescription information, and allowing doctors to choose live phone calls or emails from sellers instead.
  • Ensuring contact lenses must be dispensed exactly as the prescription is written by the doctor.
  • Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the public health and health care cost impact of internet seller abuses.
  • Increasing fines to sellers to $40,000 per infraction.

"The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act and Sen. Cassidy's leadership on this issue are good news for patients and for the cause of quality care," Dr. Loomis says. "The AOA is proud to support the bill and will continue working to make patient safety the priority it needs to be on Capitol Hill."

In a news release, Sen. Cassidy says: "As a physician, I value patient safety, and our eye health professionals need the ability to act as good stewards of patient health, as the original FCLCA intended."

"Safeguards like those in the FCLCA should be strengthened to preserve access to accurate information and the contact lenses patients need," Sen. Cassidy continues. "The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 will provide patients with these stronger safeguards, and will modernize the way our contact lens marketplace is able to work. I appreciate the commitment of the Optometric Association of Louisiana, the American Optometric Association, and the broader coalition to protecting patients' eye health; I look forward to working together to ensure the FTC takes into account public health as it reviews the FCLCA."

Efforts to reign back online sellers' unscrupulous tactics
Despite the fact that contact lenses are U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated medical devices that require a valid prescription from a patient's doctor, some internet-based sellers employ tactics that sidestep federal law designed to keep contact lens wearers safe, and AOA continues to call attention to such violations.

Over the past year alone, AOA has alerted federal officials of questionable business practices of online contact lens sellers, including 1-800 Contacts' pre-checked authorization box used to "deceptively" assert the right to act as the patient's agent and failing to effectively communicate the need for physician oversight when using contact lenses.

Additionally, AOA submitted detailed formal comments on the FTC Contact Lens Rule—now under a once-per-decade review—in October 2015. In doing so, AOA is backing reforms to make patient health and safety the highest priority, including by fixing the broken passive verification system, stopping contact lens sellers' misleading marketing ploys and ensuring sellers make available a live-contact person for doctors to discuss prescription issues.

Congressional conference discusses protecting contact lens patients
These regulatory and advocacy efforts, coupled with S. 2777, factor heavily into this year's special health policy listening session at AOA's Congressional Advocacy Conference, April 17-19, in Washington, D.C.

Titled, "Patient Vision Care Safety: Enforcement on Federal Contact Lens Patient Health Laws," the listening session updates lawmakers on how unscrupulous internet sellers threaten the eye health of patients, urging their support for stronger enforcement, as well as broaching the use of telehealth expansion.