(Chuck Muth) – For at least the last half-century we’ve allowed teachers and school bureaucrats – mostly through their unions – to dictate education policies and legislation rather than parents and students.
And how’s that worked out for us?
You see, when someone has a vested, financial interest in an issue, their motives and judgment can and should be called into question. It’s an obvious conflict. As Al Shanker, former head of the American Federation of Teachers is famously quoted as saying…
“When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
Which brings us to U.S. Sen. John Boozman’s “Contact Lens Rule Modernization Act” (S.4613).
The first thing to know about this bill is that Sen. Boozman is a licensed optometrist. And optometrists enjoy the unique benefit among medical professionals of being able to sell what they prescribe – including contact lenses.
Nah, no conflict there.
For years, optometrists conducted eye exams in their office and issued a prescription that was filled right then and there in their glistening showrooms – often at exorbitant prices. Talk about a captive audience.
But then discount and online retailers began popping up, giving contact lens wearers choices in where to shop, often at dramatically lower prices. This new competition, of course, ate into the eye docs’ profits.
To protect their cash cow, some less-than-scrupulous optometrists started withholding copies of the prescriptions consumers needed to shop elsewhere.
In response, Congress passed the “Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act” (FCLCA) in 2003 that guaranteed consumers a RIGHT to obtain a copy of their prescription, thus allowing them to purchase their contact lenses somewhere other than the optometrists’ showrooms.
Unfortunately, some optometrists ignored the law and continued the practice of withholding patient prescriptions while failing to advise patients of their right to competitively shop.
To address this ongoing problem, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a comprehensive five-year study and review of the industry. And last June it unanimously adopted, 5-0, new compliance rules to protect patients and consumers.
Instead of trusting optometrists to follow the law, the new rule – scheduled to take effect later this month – requires optometrists to have patients sign a simple form acknowledging that they’d been given a copy of their contact lens prescription.
And the eye docs are having a cow over it.
As such, they’ve persuaded Sen. Boozman – have I mentioned he’s a licensed optometrist? – to introduce a bill to roll back and gut the FTC’s new rule which is necessary to enforce the existing law.
The conflict is obvious. And the hypocrisy is thick.
Back in 2009, Sen. Boozman voted against ObamaCare; declaring that the American people deserved “access to quality and affordable health care (that) allows them to make decisions that are best for the care they need.”
But today, eleven years later, here he is trying to block Americans from access to quality and affordable contact lenses and allowing them to make decisions that are best for the eye care they need.
Worse, in introducing his anti-consumer/anti-patient roll-back bill, Sen. Boozman weaponized and politicized the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by claiming it would remove “unnecessary requirements the rule placed on providers who are already facing new challenges as a result of COVID-19.”
The fact is, the new rule IS necessary thanks to Sen. Boozman’s fellow optometrists who have been ignoring existing law. So they have no one to blame but themselves.
Congress should reject the “Profit Protection for Optometrists” bill and support competition in the marketplace for the approximately 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses.
Now, about school vouchers…
Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a free-market 501(c)(4) grassroots advocacy organization, and a member of the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice