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    AOA fights back against 1-800 CONTACTS-backed state legislation

    Washington, DC—The American Optometric Association (AOA) recently updated several state associations on legislation which is backed by online contact lens retailer 1-800 CONTACTS. The bills are in process in several states to block unilateral pricing policies (UPP)

    “The AOA believes that the announced goal of blocking UPP is part of a larger effort to misrepresent how ODs provide care for patients and, ultimately, to prohibit patients from obtaining contact lenses from community-based practices of independent eye doctors,” says AOA President David Cockrell, OD, FAAO, speaking exclusively with Optometry Times.

    According to the AOA, these bills are in the works in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

    Related: Eyecare industry representatives testify on UPP for Senate panel

    “Some individuals connected to 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc. are saying that efforts to undo UPP do not directly relate to the practice of optometry or optometry patients,” the AOA statement reads. “The AOA does not accept these assurances, is opposed to their legislation, and is mobilized to work with state associations to ensure that any and all attacks on optometry receive an immediate response.”

    The AOA highlights a number of inaccurate claims made by the bills.

    According to the AOA, the bills state that patients do not understand when the exam ends and the retail portion of their visit begins—which, the bills claim, denies the patient the opportunity to shop around and compare prices.

    The bills also claim that UPPs were put in place expressly for the benefit of the private practice eyecare provider, citing statements from Johnson & Johnson Vision Care that claimed UPP will improve the retention of patients in the provider office by removing price differentials between other retailers and the private practice doctors.

    In addition, the AOA says the bills claim that UPP damages an already anticompetitive contact lens market. According to the statement, the bills frequently claim that ODs write prescriptions for certain brands without justification, prohibiting patients from shopping for different brands or generics—calling into question the ODs' clinical and professional judgment.

    “These bills are an unprecedented attack on the doctor-patient relationship, and the state associations and the AOA are fighting back hard against this latest challenge from the online retailers,” says AOA President-elect Steve Loomis, OD, FAAO, speaking exclusively with Optometry Times. “ODs in impacted states should contact their affiliate offices.”

    Optometry Times Chief Optometric Editor Ernie Bowling says he strongly disagrees with 1-800 CONTACT's assertions that UPP was put in place for the express benefit of eyecare providers. 

    "UPP simply levels the retail playing field, and perhaps that is what is so upsetting to them," he says. "Thanks to the AOA for keeping an ever-watchful eye on this issue. Contact lenses are medical devices and are chosen by the practitioner to ensure that the patient's eye health and visual performance are optimal. This is a point that we, as optometrists, cannot stress to our patients often enough, especially in the face of seemingly omnipresent ads from retail sellers." 

    Next: 1-800 CONTACTS responds

    Colleen E. McCarthy
    Colleen McCarthy is a freelance writer based in the Cleveland area and a former editor of Optometry Times. She is a 2010 graduate of the ...

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    • StewartGooderman
      I don't see where 1800contacts has a case. UPP used by some of the biggest companies in the USA, including such giants as Apple. Exclusive designers do it all the time. And it has shown to be perfectly legal. These companies are protecting the brand. That's perfectly legal.
    • Anonymous
      My comment keeps getting removed, which hopefully is not because of my opinion. But here goes another try to talk about this issue - I do see the issue in UPP. ODs are very unique in that they actually sell their prescribed medical devices. And not just at actual cost, but at retail prices, in a retail environment. I can choose which phone I want to buy. But if I am required to buy a certain brand of lenses, the wearer should have the right to an open market.
    • Anonymous
      In contrast, I do see where this can be a problem. Contacts are medical devices, and when ODs can sell their own prescriptions as retail items, at retail prices, there must be no rules giving the writer of the Rx an advantage. People can choose which phone they want to buy, but as long as the OD chooses the lens brand, the retail field must be level.

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