Optometrists in Utah enjoy a robust scope of practice that covers oral medications, glaucoma and injections. The Utah Optometric Association (UOA) is working on expanding that – but in a reminder that optometry is a legislated profession, they’re now also facing a bill introduced in the state House that would, if passed with the current language, prohibit contact lens prescribers from selling the prescribed contact lens to their patients.
“Utah has historically been quite good at reducing the roadblocks for optometry, but now we have to look behind us with this bill that imposes some significant regulations on the conversations that optometrists can have with patients,” says UOA Executive Director Mark Taylor, OD.
Dr. Taylor became the association’s executive director just six months ago, but he had been its vice president of legislation for four years prior. He’s also a practicing OD in Kaysville.
The bill, HB 189, currently has no co-sponsors nor is there a corresponding bill on the state Senate side. Representative Jordan D. Teuscher’s bill contains several limitations on the ways that ODs can interact with their patients. They must prescribe an accurate contact lens prescription–-but the “optometrist or physician may not sell the prescribed contact lens to the patient.”
Furthermore, the bill takes consumer choice to an extreme level. The doctor must “ask the patient if the patient has a preference for a particular brand or manufacturer” and assure that the patient has received that prescription in digital or printed form.
Dr. Taylor says he and others from the UOA have been trying to discuss the bill with Rep. Teuscher, but they’re also having conversations with other committee members to see if they can stop this bill from advancing.
Dr. Taylor spins out the ramifications. It would certainly minimize the eye care professionals’ role. “If a patient comes in and says, ‘I want to wear this brand lens,’ I’d have to write the prescription unless it’s inappropriate. We are already having open discussions with patients who say, ‘My buddy wears this lens, and I’d like to try it.” That’s a different conversation than having to write prescriptions for every brand that the patient may want to choose., he says.
In addition, if optometrists are prohibited from selling the contact lenses they’ve prescribed, it would mean that professional service fees would rise. “He talks about patient choice in one section but he wants to take away the choice of patients who want to buy from their own eye doctor,” Dr. Taylor says.
In addition, the Contact Lens Rule and Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act has already addressed patients’ ability to fill their prescriptions where they want to.
The American Optometric Association notes that an analysis by the NERA Economic Consulting firm found the proposed amendments would “drastically” reduce options for Utahns seeking to purchase contact lenses and likely result in additional costs incurred for finding alternative sellers. The analysis, written by Andrew Stivers, PhD, highlighted the toll of such an amendment taking effect:
- 38% of current contact lens consumers would be forced to find a new way to get their contact lenses;
- 40% of contact lens purchasers cite a personal relationship with their doctor or staff as a reason they purchased from a private practice.
- 18% of Utahns do not shop online and may face challenges to obtaining their contact lenses.
Dr. Taylor adds that this action is a stark reminder that optometrists must be vigilant and cannot be complacent about ground already gained.