Halloween is typically scary mostly only for small children, but this year the millions of adults who wear contact lenses have reason to be frightened, particularly for their pocketbooks. That’s because an effort is under way to limit competition in the contact lens market, as Andrew Quinlan wrote in a recent column, and the cronies have seized on Halloween horror stories to bolster their cause:
This Halloween, scores of consumers have purchased nearly 100,000 pairs of “counterfeit, illegal, and unapproved” colored contacts for costumes, all of which have been seized by “Double Vision,” an FDA-led consumer safety campaign.
Not surprisingly, optometrists and their favored lens manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson are using this news hook as a means of inciting fear. They are now stepping on the gas of their congressional lobbying efforts so that their bill, The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA), is passed into law.
The CLCHPA’s objective is to rid the country of the free market reforms brought about by The Fairness in Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA), a 2003 bill that opened the contacts lens industry to free market competition for the first time.
The 2003 reforms were a major success for consumers. They put an end to shady prescriber practices that sought to trick and cajole consumers into purchasing only the brands for which the doctors had a lucrative deal, and helped usher in the competitive market of today. Consumers are now assured that prescribers will provide a copy of their prescription as required by law, and have a variety of online and other third-party sellers from which to find the best deal. Despite all the evidence pointing to how competition has lowered costs without putting consumer safety in jeopardy, special interests are now smearing these online and third-party sellers:
It is ridiculous that some doctors are correlating buying contact lenses from reputable third-party companies like Costco, Walmart, and 1-800 Contacts with purchasing them illegally from a Halloween street vendor.
…In a letter written to the CLCHPA’s authors, Dr. Paul B. Donzis, a professor of ophthalmology at UCLA, made clear that buying contacts from online sellers poses no danger. “Based on…authoritative scientific articles, it appears that online sales of contact lenses have not contributed to any increase in the incidence of contact lens related injury,” he said.
Moreover, the medical studies match the doctor’s rhetoric. A 20-year epidemiologic study conducted by Doctors Schein, Stapleton, and Keay, published in 2007 by the medical journal Eye & Contact Lens, found that there has not been any increase in microbial keratitis since the online contact industry sprouted up and began providing more and better affordable choices for consumers.
In fact, the biggest health hazard for contact lens use comes from the failure to replace old lenses in a timely fashion. Higher costs will lead many to attempt to wait longer before replacing their lenses. By threatening to limit competition and force prices back up, it is the doctors pretending to be concerned with patients while really only pursuing a narrow financial interest who are the ones placing consumers in jeopardy.