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Muth: You don’t need glasses to see why new contact lens bill stinks

Everyone who’s ever found themselves in a “captive audience” situation at an airport, movie theater or sporting event knows how sky-high prices get jacked up on food and drink. Indeed, you’re more likely to choke on seeing the cost of a hot dog than the hot dog itself!

But what I didn’t know until recently was that the same “captive audience” situation exists for people who need contact lenses.

You see, when you go to a regular doctor and they give you a written prescription, you walk out of the doctor’s office and can take that prescription anywhere you choose. Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid. Walmart or Target. Costco or Sam’s Club. A number of grocery stores. And all manner of online pharmacies.

But a curious thing happens when you go to an optometrist.

Under federal law you need a prescription for contact lenses. We in the United States take that for granted because, well, that’s just the way it’s always been done.

But guess what? You no longer need a prescription for contact lenses in Japan or the European Union. So why does the United States continue this medieval practice – other than to protect the financial interests of optometrists, of course?

Secondly, optometrists are the only medical professionals who are allowed to fill their own prescriptions. And why is this a problem? Kevin Mooney explains in a recent column …

“That’s a problem because those same optometrists who write the prescriptions are well-positioned to sell their own preferred products at a price that is substantially higher than it would otherwise be if consumers were free to shop around. And, guess what? This is precisely what happens.

“Since the contact lens prescribers are also contact lens sellers, the relationship between the optometrist and manufacturer is such that patients are typically herded in the direction of the optometrist’s preferred brand.”

The good news is that back in 2003 Congress passed a bill – the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA) – that requires optometrists to give patients a written prescription, just like a regular doctor, which the patient can take to any online or offline retailer to purchase their contact lenses.

The bad news is the American Optometric Association is trying to water down that law with a new bill that will again make it harder for those needing contact lenses to shop on the open market and potentially save some dough over the “captive audience” prices optometrists themselves often charge.

In the immortal words of fictional film critic Jay Sherman, “It stinks!”

Supporters of the bill claim it’s a patient health measure. But it’s not. It’s solely a measure to protect the financial health of American optometrists. And anyone can clearly see that even without their glasses on. Kill the bill.

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach and publisher of NevadaNewsandViews.com.

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