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AOA galvanises to fight controversial contact lens rule

Opposition in the US is gathering against a new ruling which allows patients to comparison shop for contact lenses with a copy of their prescription in hand.

Under the regulations, contact lens prescribers are required to automatically provide a copy of a patient’s prescription to the patient and to verify or provide prescriptions to third-party sellers. Advocates believe the measure will costs optometrists thousands of dollars in compliance costs.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced final amendments to its Contact Lens Rule on June 23, prompting the American Optometric Association (AOA) to mobilise its members and the wider eyecare sector to challenge it.

The AOA is objecting to changes that require contact lens prescribers to obtain signed acknowledgement forms indicating patients’ receipt of contact lens prescriptions, and to keep record of that patient confirmation for at least three years.

A growing chorus of leading industry voices are protesting against the ruling directly to FTC officials, including CooperVision, VSP Global and the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety.

The AOA said the FTC ignored its concerns as well as those of doctors of optometry, ophthalmologists, patient health and consumer advocates, since the plan was first proposed in 2016.

AOA president Dr William Reynolds said the AOA is mobilising to ensure all its doctors can speak out, educate and engage government officials in challenging the new ruling.

“This is an attack on law-abiding, frontline optometry practices made even more outrageous by the fact that the FTC has chosen this moment – amid a pandemic and economic meltdown – to finalise new rules that will needlessly saddle thousands of already struggling, small health care practices with tens of millions of dollars in new compliance costs,” Reynolds said.

According to the AOA, independent health economists estimate that the new mandate will cost the industry tens of millions annually, at least US$18,000 (AU$25,000) per doctor, per year.

The AOA and state affiliates brought their concerns to the highest level of government in a 2 July letter to President Donald Trump, urging the administration to take action “to stop the FTC from enacting this dangerous rule change and harming thousands of essential small-business health care practices”.

The AOA has asked the FTC to defer the rule’s enforcement until 1 January 2021, but without action, the new changes may go into effect soon.