AOA Backs Contact Lens Patient Safety Bill

Federal Measure Would Protect Consumers

The American Optometric Association(AOA) announced its support for legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives designed to safeguard consumers from deficient or illegal contact lens prescription verification practices used by the Internet and mail order contact lens sales industry.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), a leader in Congress on patient safety issues and chairman of the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, introduced the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act in response to complaints he received from optometrists and their patients in Kentucky and across the U.S.

“Prescription verification abuse by third-party contact lens vendors is a significant problem,” Rep. Whitfield said. “Completing contact lens sales without properly verifying a patient’s prescription is an unacceptable business practice and clearly contrary to the best interest of consumers’ health. This legislation will facilitate communication between doctors and third-party vendors, ensuring that patients receive products that are safe and compatible with their documented medical history.”

The Whitfield bill seeks to strengthen consumer safeguards on the contact lens prescription verification practices being used by third-party vendors that allow for orders to be filled without a prescription or overfilled beyond what was directed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. In putting the needs of patients first, Rep. Whitfield’s legislation is aimed at putting a stop to the use of automated telephone system “robo-calls” by sellers into the offices of eye doctors and increasing fines to be imposed by the Federal Trade Commission on online and mail order sellers who violate the law.

All contact lenses, including non-corrective, decorative lenses, are regulated as medical devices by the federal government, and may only be sold pursuant to an eye care professional’s examination and a valid prescription. If not properly manufactured, distributed, fitted, worn and cared for, they may cause serious injury to the wearer.

“Doctors, patients, manufacturers and even sellers themselves have reported serious violations of the law by Internet and mail order contact lens sales companies,” said Dr. Joe Ellis, an optometrist in Benton, Ky., and trustee of the AOA. “By sponsoring legislation to crack down on unscrupulous contact lens sellers, Congressman Whitfield is taking decisive action to safeguard the eye health of my patients in western Kentucky and contact lens patients across America.”

Original co-sponsors of the Rep. Whitfield’s Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act include Reps. Charlie Norwood (R- Ga.), John Boozman, O.D. (R-Ark.), Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Ralph Hall (R-Texas). In addition to the AOA, Rep. Whitfield’s bill has been endorsed by the Kentucky Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

“It’s a sad and disturbing fact that certain Internet and mail order contact lens sellers are putting their profits ahead of our patients,” said Dr. C. Thomas Crooks, AOA president. “Thanks to Rep. Whitfield’s leadership, Congress can take action to ensure that the interests of patients come first.”

“Contact lenses are regulated medical devices requiring a valid prescription from a licensed doctor,” Rep. Whitfield said. “Third-party vendors that overfill prescriptions or who do not verify the prescriptions they are filling endanger the health and welfare of the customers they purport to serve. My legislation will ensure the proper balance of consumer choice and the health and safety of the American public.”

Over the last year, optometrists, consumers, manufacturers and even sellers themselves have reported serious violations of the law by Internet and mail order contact lens sales companies. In October, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a formal warning letter to 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc, the largest Internet contact lens seller, after evaluating complaints about its prescription verification practices. In late June of 2006, the FTC issued a series of 18 warning letters to sellers of cosmetic contact lenses for failure to comply with the requirements of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act based on statements on the sellers’ Web sites. More recently, in August, the FTC imposed formal sanctions on Internet contact lens seller Walsh Optical Inc.

SOURCE: U.S. Newswire

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