(By Chuck Muth) – It never ceases to amaze how many professional practitioners of the Dark Art of Political Spin think so much of their own genius – and so little of the rubes living in the heartland – that they honestly believe they can try selling ice to Eskimos and get away with it.
Latest example: The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act of 2016 (HR 6157) – which has absolutely nothing to do with protecting consumer health and 100% to do with protecting the profits of a protected market for optometrists.
Indeed, in complying with the truth-in-labeling laws of this land, a more accurate name for this bill would be “The Optometrist Profit Protection Act of 2016.”
At issue is the fact that optometrists are the only medical professionals who are allowed to not only issue a prescription, but to fill it – at a significant profit. Specifically, prescriptions for contact lenses.
According to the headline of a press release sent out last week by the American Optometric Association (AOA), HR 6157 “Would Protect the Health and Safety of Contact Lens Consumers from Predatory Online Sales Tactics.”
Interesting. It appears the intent of the proposed bill is to protect consumers from predatory ONLINE sales tactics while doing nothing to protect consumers from predatory IN OFFICE sales tactics at the ol’ eye doctor.
This reminds me of that scene in the movie Animal House where the character named Otter exclaims, “He can’t do that to our pledges. Only WE can do that to our pledges!”
The first paragraph of the release claims the proposed legislation “would ensure that online sellers of contact lenses are held accountable for deceptive, abusive and illegal sales tactics that threaten patient health.”
OK, I’m no rocket surgeon, however…
Doesn’t the very phrase “illegal sales tactics” mean that whatever those sales tactics are, they’re already, um, illegal? And if they’re already illegal then, um, why do we need a new bill rather than enforce the existing laws?
We also already have laws against deceptive advertising – except, of course, when it comes to deceptive headlines and sales pitches by a PR firm in a press release peddling certain special interest legislation.
The bottom line is that many contact lens consumers have found ordering their contact lenses online from reputable firms such as Lens.com or from outside retailers such as Costco to be more convenient and/or less costly than buying directly from their optometrist.
As such, optometrists – who heretofore had a virtual monopoly over sales of contact lenses – are seeing their bottom lines shrinking. And these profit-hungry wolves are none too happy seeing their meal tickets movin’ on down the e-road.
So they’re doing what any other good “rent seeker” would do: Ask the government to help them out by screwing the competition with a new law.
Of course, it would be bush-league to actually cop to the true motivation behind the bill. So the AOA is peddling the measure as “for the patient” – an only slightly less offensive snow job than saying it’s “for the children.”
Now here’s what Congress should do instead…
Rather than trying to strangle the competition through Big Brotherish strong-arm legislative tactics, Congress ought to deregulate the contact lens industry in the U.S. altogether.
That’s right. The fact is no prescription is necessary to purchase contacts in a number of other industrialized countries. So prescription requirements in the U.S. are in place for the sole purpose of protecting and enriching optometrists.
And when your optometrist argues that you “need” a prescription for your own safety, ask why a prescription is needed to buy contact lenses to protect your health, but not to buy a pack of cigarettes!
Then sit back and watch their head explode trying to explain THAT one.
Some Members of Congress can huff and puff all they want. But HR 6157 should be blown away at the earliest opportunity. So let it be written; so let it be done.