Crony Capitalism

Congress and Crony Capitalists Want to Take Over the Contact Lens Market

Special interests collude with government to hurt consumers.

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Contacts
Dreamstime

The intensity with which some American companies try to use the government to trick or deceive consumers is astonishing. Yet the extent to which lawmakers seem content to cater to these crony pursuits never disappoints, either. Case in point: the current attempt to protect contact lens sellers from competition at the expense of consumers.

An estimated 40 million Americans wear contact lenses. That's a $4 billion industry. Thanks to the heavy-handed government regulation of all things health care, contacts already cost more than they should. However, if an ongoing effort to reduce competition through government cronyism were to succeed, costs might soon rise even more.

What makes the contact lens market unique—and also leaves it extra vulnerable to crony intervention—is the fact that customers are required by federal law to obtain a prescription from a licensed optometrist in order to purchase lenses. It is a rare instance where prescribers are also sellers, which leads to a cozy relationship between manufacturers and the doctors who can steer patients toward their brand.

Prescriptions are brand-specific. This makes it difficult for consumers to shop around. Choosing a different brand would require paying for another exam in order to obtain a new prescription.

The simplest solution would be to do away with the gatekeepers altogether and allow the purchase of contact lenses without a prescription. It works just fine that way in Europe and Japan, but manufacturers and doctors nevertheless protect their legal mandate through lobbying by citing health concerns, even as the same manufacturers happily sell to overseas markets without the same requirements.

The best actual guarantee of consumer health is the widespread availability of affordable lenses. The cheaper and more convenient it is for consumers to purchase contacts, the easier it is for them to adhere to guidelines and wear only fresh, clean lenses. The price-reducing effects of market competition thus also improve customer health.

Barring its outright elimination of the prescription requirement, competition must be protected from abuses. That's what Congress sought to do in 2003 when it passed the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act.

Among other things, it required prescribers to automatically provide copies of the prescriptions to patients so that they could shop around, including shop online or at discount stores such as Costco and Wal-Mart. As expected, this competition, which has led to more cash in consumers' pockets, hasn't been welcomed by those who would prefer to see prices artificially inflated. Ever since the enacting of that law, a group called the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety—which is made up of Johnson & Johnson, the other major contact manufacturers, the American Optometric Association, and other special interests—has sought to weaken and undermine the reforms.

Unfortunately, those efforts have been rewarded. This week, a bill was introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., called the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016, which would place pointless and costly new mandates on sellers and eliminate market competition.

Among other mandates, it would require dedicated phone lines and email addresses for prescribers to communicate questions to sellers about the prescriptions the sellers need them to verify before the sellers are allowed to fill orders. Past pro-market reforms required prescribers to verify within a reasonable amount of time; otherwise, sellers could assume the prescriptions were valid. This prevented eye doctors who also sold lenses from denying the cheaper competition the right to sell simply by not responding to verification requests.

The new bill would undo that time limit anytime a prescriber asks a question through the new communication channels—and if the prescriber then chose not to follow up any more, it could indefinitely stall the verification process in theory, effectively gutting the pro-market reforms included in the 2003 law.

With this move, these special interests demonstrate that they would rather avoid the grind of competition, which requires that companies deliver high-quality goods at low prices to consumers. Instead, they're trying to rig the system to force consumers into paying more for less.

COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

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  1. Uh, how could something called the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 do anything short of save my eyes from predatory lens peddlers? If it was the Make Contact Lenses Super Expensive So I Can Get Lobby Money Act, then I could see where you might complain.

  2. This is all my fault. My loser aura has caused this.

    I recently had to go back to wearing glasses because astigmatism has afflicted my wonderful Lasik eyes. So of course now the universe is screwing me by making contacts more expensive for me.

    My apologies to all of you.

    1. Sorry to hear that. Been down that road. Lasik is great…for a few years. Then you are back to square one.

      1. I won’t even consider it because my prescription gets stronger every year. Not about to let lasers cut my eye unless it’s a one time deal.

      2. I loved my lasik. I had mine in ’99 and once you correct for astigmatism I still have 20/20 vision. I was nearsighted and astigmatic before.

        Lasik is still one of the best decisions of my life.

        1. I’m just over a year now and still loving it.

      3. Depends on the person I guess. A coworker of mine had it, and he’s got all kinds of eye problem. But he had those problems anyway. My mother got it done around twenty years ago, and she’s still got good vision. She was legally blind without glasses before the surgery.

      4. At least with Lasik, I can be outside and not have to worry about glasses or contacts. It’s reading I have trouble with. I’m on the computer quite a bit, though, so it’s not helpful there. I wear contact lens with glasses over *them*. At least I don’t get headaches from eye strain now. Also, if anyone *does* get Lasik, they should avoid monovision (one eye set for near and the other eye for far).

  3. Congress and Crony Capitalists Want to Take Over the Contact Lens All Markets

    They really would love to go full fascist.

  4. “This week, a bill was introduced”

    Any lame-ass retard can *introduce* a bill, the question is whether the bill has enough political backing to advance beyond the introduction stage.

    1. Quick question. Do you think all the optometrists pushing for this bill have more political pull than all the people out there that wear glasses and contacts?

      My money is on on the bill passing, because the people who stand to profit from the bill really want it to pass, and the people who would object to it don’t even really know that it’s a thing.

      1. There are a number of players with stakes here —
        -patients/consumers
        -the big retailers like Walmart, Costco, 1-800-Contacts etc
        -the Optometrists
        -the Contact Lens Mfg themselves (there are only really 4 left in the US – CooperVision, B+L, Alcon, and J&J

        Last time the battle was the 3rd party retailers and consumers vs the contact lens manufacturers who wanted to control their selling channels, specifically they wanted patients to have to purchase through ECPs so the ECPs would make a margin on their lenses and be more likely to prescribe their brands. The DoJ had been threatening anti-trust laws against them so they made a deal to allow the 3rd party sales and as a compromise to ECPs they would REQUIRE an annual prescription in order to purchase. The current law, I believe says that consumers HAVE to be given a written prescription if requested and you can upload that scrip to online retailers or bring them to stores in order to purchase. Not sure if the new law would eliminate that requirement.

        1. A lot of the big retailers, insurers, and glasses brands are owned by a few companies. Luxottica is the biggest. They own LensCrafters, PearleVision, Sears Optical, and Target Optical among optometrists and Eyemed, the #2 VSP in the US.

          Luxottica controls between 60 and 80% of the eyeglasses market. Safilo is #2 at about a 10%.

          Optometrists, on the other hand, are much less concentrated. About 50% of the optometrist market is independent optometrists.

          Luxottica recently acquired 1-800-Contacts. I’m not sure about their contact lens market share.

          I wonder if this is really a play by Luxottica to increase their contact lens market share.

    2. (introduces bill to deport anyone named “Eddie”)

    3. No, only about 500 lame-ass retards can introduce a bill.

  5. I think the 2003 law was a fairly good compromise. There are still ways around the law as you can buy lenses from some foreign re-sellers that will ship to the US and not abide by the prescription verification requirement (I think there is a big one in BC, Canada).

    You can actually cause damage to your eye if the lens does not fit properly (scratched cornea), which isn’t to say optometrists don’t sometimes fuck up and prescribe a lens that doesn’t fit, but there is a good reason you should have a contact lens fitting done by a professional. Whether that justifies the law requiring it or not, I don’t know, but the potential harm to consumers is not zero.

    Also, for you people who wear CLs, for the love of god and all that is holy, do not TOP OFF THE DISINFECTANT IN YOUR CASE you cheap bastards. Throw it out and use fresh solution or you are risking a nasty eye infection.

    1. Whether that justifies the law requiring it or not

      It doesn’t.

    2. Also, if you have an infant with explosive diarrhea, take your lenses out before you try to change his diaper. I had conjunctivitis for a week, and that shit hurts. Couldn’t look at bright light, constant headache, couldn’t wear contacts, it was awful.

  6. OT: I know IL isn’t the first, but has Reason covered the Mileage Tax proposals?

    The insidiousness of the green movement knows few bounds. Electric and more efficient cars means fuel taxes drop and infrastructure goes unsupported. So we start taxing people per mile instead of per gallon.

    As was discussed in the ‘Dying of poor white people’ article, mileage taxes will be explicitly disproportionate in rural communities and will effectively subsidize public transportation in more urban ones. Not that this is an excuse for being poor and lazy but just another example of how TOP MEN *in the capitol* is intrinsically oppressive of rural communities. Especially in an era where a telephone wire to every home is ancient technology.

    1. Perhaps if the fuel tax money was actually spent on the roadway infrastructure it is supposed to support?

      1. Perhaps if the fuel tax money was actually spent on the roadway infrastructure it is supposed to support?

        Believe it or not more than a handful of transportation technologies could carry you coast-to-coast in a timely and reliable manner (especially in their own era) without a dime of government money.

        1. Not sure about that – most that I can think of have had bunches of government money in there somewhere.

          Whether they needed to, or should have gotten it, is a separate calculation that can only be hypothetical at this point.

          My point on the fuel tax revenue is just that when it drops, it just exacerbate the existing problems caused by not using it for what it was supposed to be for.

          “Oops, that pile of money we promised to use to maintain the infrastructure, but instead were using as a slush fund while the infrastructure decayed, is not being replenished as quickly as it was!

          QUICK! Moar taxez and government intrusions!”

          1. Not sure about that – most that I can think of have had bunches of government money in there somewhere.

            True. ‘Not a dime’ is certainly a hyperbole. I think a strong case could be made in the needed/should have gotten debate that there was almost always a hefty amount of borrowing from Sen. Peter to pay Gov. Paul.

            My point on the fuel tax revenue is just that when it drops, it just exacerbate the existing problems caused by not using it for what it was supposed to be for.

            My point was, if you *needed* to get to the other side of the country, even the poor, especially by today’s standards, could do it without a using any federal monies or ‘consuming federal properties’ (as the justification goes). Moreover, in the era of teleconferencing and cellular/satellite communications, the notion that *we* *need* to maintain the Eisenhower Interstate System, as is and in perpetuity, so that some*body* or some*thing* can be someplace at a moment’s notice* is a bit of comic-book logic.

            Tomato/Tomahto

      2. That’s just crazy talk. Money’s money, am I right?

        1. Yeah, sorry. Off my meds, obviously.

      3. Some states do reserve the money for highways.

    2. If it weren’t for the potential for tracking everyone, and it was actually used to pay for only roads, it wouldn’t be so terrible. If cars go electric, you do need a different way to pay for roads.

      1. And if it was replacing the gas tax instead of supplementing it. Or, even better, toll roads. Private toll roads.

      2. Like some kind of electricity tax?

    3. mileage taxes will be explicitly disproportionate in rural communities and will effectively subsidize public transportation in more urban ones.

      Yes, just like the gas tax.

      The stupid thing about these proposals is that it could actually be done VERY cheaply – even more cheaply than the gasoline tax – but instead the proposals are all about tracking your every move with billions of dollars in new tracking infrastructure.

  7. Did you know you could buy variously colored, non-prescription contacts at just about any convenience store – at least here in Ohio? Is the ostensible purpose of these kind of laws to protect people’s eyes from damage or is it to ensure, supposedly, the quality of their correction? I am certain we will see lawsuits the first time someone damages their eyes with these OTC lenses. I can foresee a big news story (roughly equivalent to “The Heroine epidemic” or whatever new hysteria grips the nation) eventually about people destroying their eyes with Jiffy Mart lenses.

    1. You can just like you can buy crack on a street corner. Doesn’t mean it is legal.

  8. Maybe I should back to contacts. With this surgically enhanced eyes I can’t see the alt-text.

  9. Maybe I should back to contacts. With this surgically enhanced eyes I can’t see the alt-text.

    1. At least the squirrels are large enough for these contact-less eyes to make out.

  10. If crony capitalism in the contact lens market research the LASIK industry. (see Morris Waxler FDA) I would offer that the above bill would certainly benefit LASIK surgeons who continually tell you how much money you can save by having laser corrections and not needing contacts, and IMO they are probably supporting this law change also.

    And for those of you considering LASIK, I suggest you do a “google scholar” search (not just a google search).
    You will find doctors researching corneal ectasia, dry eyes, retinal detachment, premature cataracts, high IOP, HOA’s – all after LASIK). I personally have spent over $10,000 just on the complications and have been told to expect a cornea transplant in my future. (And, yes-for all you happy patients – I paid top dollar and used the most expensive surgeon I could find – I, yes, was an idiot.)

    IMO: Altho, refractive surgery costs are elective, the long-term public costs will explode as more people develop long term complications that are paid by all.

    1. Laser eye surgery industry is some of the same companies as contact lenses — B+L, Alcon, AMO

  11. At least the courts will protect us against excessive regulation like this because we have a right to contact lenses. Right?

    1. No, no, no, no. The purpose of regulation is to protect people, therefore, you will benefit!

  12. This is absurd. I technically have monthly contact lenses, but because they’re so bloody expensive I’ve stretched out one year’s prescription to close to two years, if not more. I hate the fact that Missouri state law requires that we see an optometrist once a year to get a new prescription, and then deal with the cost of buying new lenses.

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  14. I can buy convex glasses at Walmart for five bucks but I need permission from a top man licensed by the government to buy concave glasses.

    I think the solution is more laws.

    The first common sense move would be to register all frames and a limit on all lenses.

    1. The Bill of Rights is only supposed to apply to monocles. Nobody needs more than one lens.

  15. Vision problems and allergies are two things that I really feel like should be curable in 2016. Not treatable, or correctable, curable, dammit.

  16. This entire article is a bunch of uninformed hogwash. Very typical of the “we know best” mentality that prevails in this day and age.

    Changing brands of contact lenses does NOT typically require “paying for another eye exam”. In most cases, if you’re not happy with your contacts, doctors will happily fit you in another model or brand until you’re satisfied. This is what TRIALS are for, and they cost nothing. In fact, even if you do buy boxes of contacts and end up being unhappy with them, you can return them for a refund, even on partial boxes. This is true just about anywhere. The “Contact Lens Fitting” fee of an eye exam usually covers ALL the visits required until the patient is happy with his/her prescription,including any follow-ups. If your eye care professional doesn’t work this way, then find another one. There’s no lack of WalMart Vision Centers or Sears Optical stores out there.

    As for the “onerous” requirement for a prescription to get contacts, most people don’t realize that contacts aren’t just frameless lenses. They’re PROSTHETICS, that can cause severe eye damage if they don’t fit right or aren’t used properly, to the point of permanent blindness. Many of the eye diseases that optometrists and ophthalmologists deal with every day are caused by contact lens abuse. Usually by people who “know better” and don’t care what knowledgeable professionals tell them.

    I could go on, but I’m limited to 1500 characters.

    1. doctors will happily fit you in another model or brand until you’re satisfied.

      I could happily do it myself, but the doctors want to force me to pay for continued office visits.

      This is what TRIALS are for, and they cost nothing.

      Who’s doing free office visits? WalMart? Sears?

      1. Sears would make sense. Sears Optical is own by Luxottica and sells Luxottica glasses.

        So rather than pay for the exam directly, you’re paying for glasses that include the cost of the exam.

      2. Did you even read what the poster said? The whole part of paying for the fitting fee includes not paying for office visits until the contacts work out (within a reasonable time frame- you can’t come back 6 months later).

    2. Many of the eye diseases that optometrists and ophthalmologists deal with every day are caused by contact lens abuse.

      So the current magic of prescriptions ISN’T eliminating contact lens abuse, but rather CAUSING it instead. And you want more of this?

      1. This is why we can’t have nice things.

        A doctor tries to save his patient’s vision by carefully instructing him on correct usage of contacts. Patient thinks doctor doesn’t know d*** and does it his own way. Patient gets horrible infection in eye and has to return to doctor. Conspiracy theorists conclude that doctors want patients to get sick, ‘cuz more money. Ignore part about doctor carefully instructing patient on correct use and patient’s decision to not follow doctor’s instructions on correct use.

    3. In most cases, if you’re not happy with your contacts, doctors will happily fit you in another model or brand until you’re satisfied.

      Another brand from the same manufacturer? 😀

  17. Misinformed article. I am an optometrist. Having patients purchase contact lenses without a prescription is a bad idea. Every month I have patients that come into my office for red-eye visits because they purchased their contact lenses at a beauty salon, gas station or via somewhere overseas. I maybe make 5$ a box on contact lenses. I make more money off the red-eye visit resulting from the poor purchase than the contact lenses. All contact lenses fit differently and have different pros and cons. Every patient is different. You cannot just slap a contact lens on the eye and send the patient out the door. The writer says “…This makes it difficult for consumers to shop around. Choosing a different brand would require paying for another exam in order to obtain a new prescription.” This is untrue. I do not know anyone that charges existing patients another fee if the patient is unhappy with their contact lenses and if the patient has their RX, shopping around is very easy and allows the market to set the price. As a libertarian I agree the government and laws should be a minimal as possible. Having the eye doctor check to make sure your eyes are healthy and your contact lenses are performing like you want them to is important.

  18. Well, y’know, if I were a contact lens manufacturer I would only sell my product to ophthalmologists and optometrists to then sell to patients with valid prescriptions. Or to pharmacists who were presented with a valid prescription. Even if there were no FDA.

    This being the USA, a country in which it has become necessary to put warning labels on coffee cups reading, “Caution: Hot beverages are hot!” I would not be willing to bear the liability of ignorant consumers who think they know everything about contact lenses after talking to their BFF or “researching” it on Dr. Google. There is just way too much that can go horribly wrong.

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  20. The simplest solution would be to do away with the gatekeepers altogether and allow the purchase of contact lenses without a prescription.

    Nice to see that Reason has finally come out in favor of a little health care freedom for *something*.

    How about Reasons bucks up and proposes an actual free market in health care generally?

    The simplest solution would be to do away with the gatekeepers altogether and allow the sale and purchase of all medicines, medical tests, medical devices, and medical services without government permission slips.

  21. Laws regarding my glasses and contacts prescriptions that prevented me from being able to replace my destroyed glasses and lost contacts in an emergency led me directly to the decision to get corrective eye surgery. Fuck the cronies and their Statist conspirators.

  22. Interesting. I remember that I had to bring a bunch of contact lenses to a friend when I visited the US last year. She was complaining that they are pretty expensive which took me a bit by surprise. You can buy them at drugstores and some super markets here and I have never heard of wide-spread trouble caused by that (though I don’t know how many people get those sold by optometrists compared to the supermarket variety – which I guess might not be a good fit for some)

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  26. I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to find optometrists commenting on the vital necessity of a law requiring people to visit optometrists every two years.

    There are many online vendors in other countries who will sell lenses as long as you send in a document called “Contact Lens Prescription” that contains all the necessary information and a recently dated signature with a phone number. Be creative. Do what George Costanza would do.

    Speaking of which, although there is plenty of evidence that long term wear of disposable lenses with very low oxygen permeability causes physical changes to corneal cells, and possibly damage to eyes and/or vision, that is NOT true of highly O2 permeable silicone hydrogel lenses.

    Optometrists, get ready to clutch your pearls: I “never” change my lenses. My current lenses have both been in since 2015. At about the 6 month mark they finally start to lose shape and I’ll notice my vision begin to blur. That’s when I finally change it/them. Obviously sooner if it tears or I get an irritant/chemical/something gross in my eye. No conjunctivitis in the 8 years I’ve done this, compared to a bout every 1-2 years when I was constantly sticking my fingers I my eyes to daily remove/clean lenses. Read the medical studies on this topic.

  27. RE: Congress and Crony Capitalists Want to Take Over the Contact Lens Market
    Special interests collude with government to hurt consumers.

    Isn’t that why these parasites were put into public office in the first place?
    To reward their cronies and fatten their off-shore bank accounts?
    Are you all really this naive?

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