WASHINGTON, D.C.—When the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in November announced its intention to revise and update the Contact Lens Rule, which provides the framework around dispensing of contact lenses, the agency also had to seek public comments on its proposed changes before it could move ahead.

The deadline to submit comments to FTC was Monday, Jan. 30. And, as expected, the agency was swamped with industry comments that represented views from both sides in this contentious debate around dispensing of contact lenses.

From the opening of the comment period on or about Nov. 11 until Jan. 23, more than 1,300 separate comments were submitted to the FTC website. Comments submitted between Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 had not been posted to the FTC site as of late Friday afternoon (Feb. 3). You can review the comments that already have been reviewed by FTC and posted here.

As VMail reported, the FTC had proposed late last year a number of changes to the existing contact lens dispensing rules. The current regulations were issued in 2004, and FTC is updating the regulation as required.

Among the proposed changes: prescribers would be required to obtain a signed acknowledgment from each contact lens patient that states: “My eyecare professional provided me with a copy of my contact lens prescription at the completion of my contact lens fitting, and; I understand I am free to purchase contact lenses from the seller of my choice.”

Prescribers also would be required to keep a copy of this signed acknowledgement on file (either hard copy or an electronic version) for at least three years, according to the FTC’s proposed rule changes.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) was among the parties submitting comments to the FTC. A spokeswoman for AOA noted the association “urged the commission not to adopt the proposed new requirements” because they “do not address patient safety concerns in the contact lens marketplace.”

In addition, AOA said FTC’s proposed changes “do not exist in the statute, are unnecessary, and would impose burdens on eye doctors that will result in higher costs to patients.” AOA said it engaged Avalon Health Economics to study the cost burden of implementing the FTC’s proposal “per optometric practice in the United States for staff engagement training, periodic assessments of the new policy, explanation of new FTC rules, answering questions concerning new FTC rules, and administrative time associated with adhering to rules.”

The analysis by Avalon found that in the initial year of implementation, the economic burden could be as high as $49,913 for optometric practices with three doctors of optometry. The cost burden for a practice with one doctor of optometry could be as high as $18,795.

AOA also noted in its comments that during a review of online CL retailers, it found that 33 of 41 companies it had reviewed previously and to found to be “operating illegally” in 2015, were still operating outside the law in 2017 and “allowing individuals to purchase contact lenses without a prescription.”

On the other side of the issue, Lens.com, an online CL retailer, submitted comments in which it “complimented” the agency on its proposed regulation changes. “Tens of millions of Americans who wear contact lenses will benefit from the rule FTC has proposed,” Lens.com noted. “We believe this is a significant change and a real win for consumers.”

Lens.com, which along with Costco Wholesale and 1-800 Contacts, is a member of the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice, which also has endorsed the FTC’s proposed changes. The Coalition has a petition on its website where consumers can sign up to show support of their “right to buy contact lenses online, in stores, and over the phone—wherever and whenever is convenient.”

In its comments, Lens.com also noted that “many optometrists do not provide patients with their prescriptions despite being required to by law.”

The retailer added, “The [2004 regulations] created a thriving, robust marketplace in which new market entrants and vigorous competition developed. This has driven prices down for consumers and led to new innovations in the market. However today, over a decade after the FCLCA passed into law, in excess of two-thirds of Lens.com customers still order without the ease of using their prescription. Surely this is a direct result of the failure of optometrists to provide their patients with their prescriptions, as required by law.”