Recently, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a public meeting as part of its regulatory review of the Contact Lens Rule (effective Aug. 2, 2004) associated with the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (passed by the U.S. Congress in 2003). The public workshop is being held Mar. 7, 2018 in Washington, DC (www.ftc.gov/news-events/events-calendar/2018/03/contact-lens-rule-evolving-contact-lens-marketplace ) to “explore issues regarding competition in the contact lens marketplace, consumer access to contact lenses, prescription release and portability, and related subjects.”
More specifically, the public notice indicates the following agenda topics: consumers’ ability to comparison shop for contact lenses; the use of electronic health records, patient portals, and other technology to improve prescription portability; the interaction between the Contact Lens Rule and emerging telehealth business models; the potential for new technology to improve the prescription verification process; and modifications to the Rule to foster competition and maximize consumer benefits, including benefits to eye health.
While competition is a vital part of a healthy free market economy, there are challenges that relate to regulated products such as pharmaceuticals or medical devices. For instance, pharmaceutical companies argue that because they invest billions of dollars to get new drugs to market, their investments should be protected (and they generally are protected for a period of time through the patent process). The industry further argues that loss of this protection also potentially stifles further investment in innovative development of new products. On the contrary, proponents of healthcare reform argue that many elements of our healthcare system prevent certain aspects of a competitive free market environment for pharmaceuticals or medical devices, distorting the semblance of a free market in this particular space.
The FTC’s public workshop relating to contact lenses has the potential to impact the contact lens industry in substantial ways in the years to come. A dear friend and colleague, Dr. Art Epstein, recently wrote about these issues in his weekly newsletter, Optometric Physician, part of which we have reprinted on page 13. One overarching issue that I think we all agree on is the importance of maintaining patient safety—that is something of which I hope we never lose sight!