The Contact Lens Rule: A Guide for Prescribers and Sellers
The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act increases consumers’ ability to shop around when buying contact lenses. The Act gives consumers certain rights, imposes duties on contact lens prescribers and sellers, and requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop and enforce implementing rules. The FTC issued the Contact Lens Rule in July 2004 to spell out the Act’s requirements.
The Contact Lens Rule requires prescribers to give patients a copy of their contact lens prescriptions at the end of a contact lens fitting, even if the patient doesn’t ask for it. A patient who wants to buy contact lenses from another seller then may give the prescription to that seller. If a consumer doesn’t give his prescription to that seller, the seller must verify the prescription before selling the lenses.
The verification process works like this: the consumer provides prescription information to the seller, who then submits it to the prescriber in a verification request. The prescriber has eight-business-hours to respond. If the prescriber does not respond within the required time, the prescription is verified automatically, and the seller may provide contact lenses to the consumer.
According to the Rule, “prescriber” refers to anyone permitted under state law to issue prescriptions for contact lenses — including ophthalmologists, optometrists, and licensed opticians who also are permitted under state law to fit contact lenses (sometimes called “dispensing opticians”).
1. Does a patient have to request a copy of their contact lens prescription?
NO. Prescribers must give a copy of the contact lens prescription to the patient at the end of the contact lens fitting – even if the patient doesn’t ask for it.
2. When do I give the patient a copy of the patient's contact lens prescription?
The patient is entitled to a copy of the contact lens prescription when you complete a contact lens fitting for the patient. That is the point when you should give the patient a copy of the contact lens prescription.
A contact lens fitting is defined by Section 11 of the FCLCA to mean the process beginning after your initial eye examination of the patient and ending when a successful fit has been achieved or, in the case of a renewal prescription, ending when you determine that no change in prescription is required. The fitting process may include an examination to determine lens specifications, an initial evaluation of the fit of the lens on the eye (but not for a renewal of prescription), and any medically necessary follow-up examinations.
3. Can I charge a patient fee for providing them with a copy of their contact lens prescription or for verifying a contact lens prescription to a seller?
NO. You cannot charge such a fee.
In any response to a verification request, prescribers must correct any inaccuracy in the prescription, inform the seller if it’s expired and specify the reason if it’s invalid.
4. Can I refuse to give the patient a copy of the patient's contact lens prescription if the patient does not pay for their eye examination, fitting, and evaluation, and I require such immediate payment of all patients, even if their examination reveals no need for contact lenses or any other ophthalmic goods?
YES. Section 3 of the FCLCA allows that under this limited circumstance you may refuse to give a patient a copy of their contact lens prescription. However, a patient cannot be denied a copy of their contact lens prescription just on the basis that the patient owes a past debt to the practice - it has to be based on a failure to pay for the current eye examination, fitting, and evaluation, and you have to require all patients to make such immediate payment, even those who do not need ophthalmic goods of any kind. If patient presents proof of insurance coverage for the service rendered, that constitutes an immediate payment and the patient must be given a copy of the patient's contact lens prescription.
5. What is the expiration date for a contact lens prescription?
Section 5 of the FCLCA sets a one year expiration date for contact lens prescriptions, unless a state law sets a longer expiration date
A prescriber may set an expiration date of earlier than one year only if that date is based on the prescriber’s medical judgment about the patient’s eye health. In these cases, the prescriber must document the medical reason for the shorter expiration date with enough detail to allow for review by a qualified medical professional, and maintain the records for at least three years.
For more details about compliance, see “Q&A: The Contact Lens Rule and the Eyeglass Rule” at www.ftc.gov.