WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are joining the industry fray over proposed changes to the Contact Lens Rule. The senators sent a letter earlier this week to Maureen Ohlhausen, the acting chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging her and the agency to move ahead with finalizing the proposed changes to the agency’s CL regulation.

“We commend the FTC for acting to preserve the integrity of the [Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act], and urge prompt finalization of the proposed updates to the Contact Lens Rule,” the senators wrote in their letter. (VMail received a copy of the letter.)

As VMail reported, the FTC last fall proposed changes to the 2004 Contact Lens Rule, including a requirement that ECPs obtain signed acknowledgements from each CL patient. The acknowledgement would note the patient had received a copy of their prescription at the completion of the fitting and that the patients understand they are “free to purchase contact lenses from the seller of [their] choice.”

In addition, the FTC’s proposed changes would require ECPs to keep a copy of this signed acknowledgement on file (hard copy or digital file) for at least three years.

The existing CL rule was first issued in 2004, and FTC is in the midst of reviewing and updating the regulation as required by law. A spokesman told VMail on Tuesday that the agency does not have a deadline around the proposed updates to the CL rule.

“[The] staff is in the process of reviewing comments and determining a recommendation,” an FTC staff person said in an email. “The next step could be to request comment on a different proposal. Or, we could decide not to amend the rule at all, keep it as it is [or] alternatively, we could finalize the version we proposed.”

The situation is further complicated by staffing issues at the FTC. Currently, there are only two sitting FTC commissioners, leaving three vacancies. And commissioner Terrell McSweeny’s seven-year term ends in September. She can stay on until a successor is installed, however.

The Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety, which includes the contact lens companies CooperVision, Alcon, Bausch+Lomb and Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, among others, has said the FTC’s proposed changes to the CL Rule fail to address some patient-safety issues, including passive-verification robocalls, excessive-quantity sales and lens substitution. “Each of these issues has a potential significant effect on eye health,” the Coalition noted.

In addition, some ECPs and others in the industry see the new paperwork requirements as burdensome and have requested the FTC include language in any update to the CL rule that addresses what they see as “challenges” in the online contact lens marketplace. Among the challenges: surveys indicate that one in three patients has been able to purchase contact lenses using an expired prescription and about one-third of patients have been advised by an online retailer to substitute non-prescribed lenses due to supply issues.

In their letter to the FTC, the senators note that the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (passed in 2003) has “predictably spurred competition, provided contact lens wearers with more choices, and encouraged investment into new technologies. Unfortunately, eyecare providers may be flouting [some of] these requirements.”

The letter added, “FCLCA guarantees contact lens wearers the right to a copy of their prescription, so they can comparison shop and purchase from the seller of their choice. For 15 years, since FCLCA was enacted, contact lens prescribers have been flouting the requirements to release prescriptions, forcing consumers to buy their lenses straight from prescribers. The FTC proposed reforms will improve the eyecare providers’ compliance in releasing contact lens prescriptions.”