NEW YORK—Four law firms, on behalf of clients including the Healthy Vision Association, National Association of Vision Care Plans (NAVCP), VSP Insurance Company, Visionworks and others have filed suit against the state of Texas following its passage of state law HB 1696. The law, which relates to the relationship between managed care plans and optometrists and therapeutic optometrists, was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on June 14 of this year and is due to become effective Sept. 1.

The complaint, Case 5:23-cv-00167-C, filed in the United States District Court of the Northern District of Texas Lubbock division on Aug. 4, 2023, cites the defendants are Greg Abbott, the Governor of the state of Texas and Angela Menero in her capacity as Attorney General of the state of Texas and in her capacity as the Insurance Commissioner of the State of Texas. 

In the complaint, the plaintiff's introduction states, "The statute stops dead in its tracks a market-based mechanism for decreasing the cost of vision care for Texans by suppressing truthful, noncontroversial speech that facilitates the provision of cost-effective care to Texans who pay for and participate in vision insurance and care. H.B. 1696 directly impacts vision care insurers and the Texas patients they insure. In sum, it restricts vision care insurers’ ability to communicate the cost of vision care at competing optometrists to their insureds and prevents patients from receiving information that is important to their health care decisions."

The complaint, on behalf of the plaintiffs, states for various reasons that the HR 1696 bill "restricts communication to patients and consumers" and other communications about eyecare professionals, "in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The complaint seeks the Court to enjoin the act, and a permanent injunction against its prospective enforcement.

On behalf of the Healthy Vision Association, a St. Louis, Mo.-based organization which is involved in providing vision and other healthcare and service benefits to patients, including patients in Texas, its president, Rich Schindehette, issued a press statement that said, "Consumers have the absolute right to receive information that will help them make the most informed decisions on where and how they access affordable and value-driven care. This new law is extremely troubling, and we are prepared to fight together for the rights of patients and consumers to receive all relevant and critical information they deserve when making health care decisions."

In addition, that press statement said, "The law imposes unconstitutional restraint on the right of managed vision care companies to communicate important health care information to insured patients, including how to maximize their benefits through specific providers, or even distinguishing in-network providers from other providers."  Added Julian Roberts, executive director of the National Association of Vision Care Plans (NAVCP) in that press statement, "This law makes it harder for Texans to access care and significantly limits value and choice in the marketplace by limiting the ability of managed vision care companies to freely promote, advocate and market annual vision care visits.

In addition to harming patients, it also negatively impacts providers who voluntarily participate in managed vision care programs, as it will reduce patient flow opportunities and increase barriers to care,” Roberts said.

After the Texas bill was signed in June, the American Optometric Association (AOA) reported on the elements of the bill as "historic legislation" and also cited comments from Jennifer Deakins, OD, president of the Texas Optometric Association (TOA) who said, "Over 1,300 Texas doctors of optometry personally indicated their support of the bill to the governor, so we know our colleagues are happy that what seemed like an unwinnable fight for groundbreaking legislation was actually won.” 

At the end of last month, the AOA also communicated to members and on its website about the advocacy in Texas and its own efforts in other parts of the country on the issue of insurance plans "anticompetitive behavior."

Access to the Aug. 4 complaint filed against the state of Texas is posted here on Pacer.