The Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice
District of Columbia
16 CFR Part 315; Agency Information Collection Activities: Review; Comment Request; Contact Lens Rule: FTC Project No. R511995
The Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice ("the Coalition") respectfully submits the following comments in response to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) request for comments on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Contact Lens Rule (16 CFR Part 315, Project No. R511995). The Coalition serves as a voice for 41 million American contact lens consumers by advocating for continued consumer choice in the contact lens market. The Coalition opposes legislative and regulatory proposals at the federal and state levels that would limit the ability of consumers to purchase contact lenses from the retailer of their choice, whether online, in stores or over the phone. The Coalition commends the FTC for proposing to add a strong consumer rights provision to the Contact Lens Rule, the regulatory framework that implements the landmark Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2003 (FCLCA), and for rejecting proposals that would weaken consumer protections. The key change proposed by the FTC -- the addition of a requirement for optometrists to obtain a signed acknowledgement after providing a prescription to a consumer, and to keep that acknowledgement on file for three years -- would help address the primary deficiency of the current system, that many optometrists routinely fail to automatically provide patients with a copy of their contact lens prescription. This new procedure would give the FTC a means to track those who are failing to follow the prescription release requirement under FCLCA and to take action on behalf of consumers' rights when a case warrants. What the FTC is proposing is a common sense, minimally-burdensome rule change that both optometrists and consumers can and should support. In its proposed rulemaking, the FTC accurately noted that "compliance with the automatic prescription release provision could be substantially improved" and that its proposed change "is likely to spur more competition and innovation among contact lens sellers and manufacturers." The Coalition is also pleased that the FTC rejected a series of proposals made by the AOA, contact lens manufacturers and the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety that, if adopted, would gut the consumer protections in the FCLCA, making it much harder for consumers to purchase lenses from alternative retailers. The key rejected proposals include: allowing optometrists to block sales by asking a question during the prescription verification process; allowing optometrists to select the method of communication retailers must use in contacting prescribers; lengthening the eight-business-hour period for prescription verification; restricting automated verification systems; adding requirements for live agents to take calls from prescribers; and adopting quantity limits on lens orders. In rejecting these proposals, the FTC appropriately emphasized the importance of protecting consumer rights as Congress intended when it passed the FCLCA in 2003. The FTC also accurately noted that the groups making these proposals failed to provide empirical evidence or data to support their claims, and instead provided only hypothetical examples and anecdotal stories. The Coalition also supports the FTC's move to clarify the Contact Lens Rule to state that consumers are entitled to additional copies of their prescription upon request, and that alternative retailers, when designated, are also entitled to receive copies of the prescription. This clarification is necessary due to the continued failure of many optometrists to provide prescriptions to consumers and alternative retailers acting as the consumers' authorized agents.