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Many Texas eye doctors circumvent contact lens law

February 1, 2001

Many Texas eye doctors circumvent contact lens law
Rep. Maxey’s HB 846 would remedy loopholes in 1997 law

AUSTIN, TX – A report released by Consumers Union finds many eye doctors in Texas are creating barriers that violate the intent of a 1997 law that gives consumers the right to their contact lens prescriptions. The report is based on a survey and an analysis of consumer complaints to the Texas Optometry Board.
“The bottom line is Texas consumers often still face an uphill battle when shopping around for the best deal in contact lenses,” said Lisa McGiffert, a senior policy analyst with the Southwest Regional Office of Consumers Union. “We’ll be asking the Texas Legislature to give us the tools to remedy the situation.”
Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, the author of the Texas Contact Lens Prescription Act, has filed HB 846 to close key loopholes in the 1997 law.
CU surveyed 83 eye doctors in nine Texas cities, including: Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Laredo, Midland/Odessa, San Antonio and Tyler. Shopping around is important because the cost of replacement contacts varies widely — from $19 to $42 for the same brand and type of soft contact lenses, according to the CU survey.
Only two of the 83 optometrists surveyed by CU refused to release a prescription at all, but four others would not release prescriptions unless patients first agreed to buy an initial supply of contact lenses from them. Both are clear violations of the 1997 law.
While the 1997 law made some medical and other exceptions to releasing contact lens prescriptions to individual patients, the survey noted: “Some eye doctors, with the blessing of the Texas Optometry Board, have instead used the flexibility granted by statute to create procedures that apply to every patient.” For example, many are requiring all patients to return to their offices for follow-up visits or buy an initial supply of contact lenses from them first before releasing the prescription.
Current Texas law requires an optometrist or ophtalmologist to provide a contact lens prescription to any patient who requests it. It forbids eye doctors to condition the release of a contact lens prescription on the patient’s agreement to buy contact lens or other ophthalmic goods. Eye doctors also cannot charge a fee in addition to the examination and fitting fees as a condition for releasing the prescription.
Eye doctors can refuse to release prescriptions for reasons relating to an individual patient’s health, if financial obligations have not been met, or if the request is made after the first anniversary of the patient’s last eye exam. A doctor who refuses to release a prescription must tell the patient the reason and document it in the patient’s record.
McGiffert said most eye doctors appear to be following the law, but added: “While we think the law is clear, apparently it’s not clear enough for some eye doctors who put their interests above that of their own patients.”
The most troubling finding in CU’s survey was that 57 percent of optometrists refused to release a prescription unless a patient came back for a follow-up visit, even if the patient had previously worn the same type of contact lenses. Approximately one third of contact lens complaints to the Texas Optometry Board reviewed by Consumers Union dealt with this very problem.
Other barriers to the reasonable and fair use of prescriptions found in the report are:
· A requirement that the prescription be an original, which can prevent Texas consumers from purchasing inexpensive mail order or internet order contact lenses.
· Since contact lens prescriptions must include the number of lenses, some eye doctors refuse to release a prescription if the customer has already purchased that specific number of lenses. This requires those who lose a box of lenses or who are prone to tearing their lenses to return for another exam before replacing the lost lenses.
· Some eye doctors charge customers for a “service agreement” covering follow-up visits that tie the patient to that practitioner’s office.
· The Texas Optometry Board has interpreted current law in a restrictive manner saying eye doctors are only required to give out a prescription once; leaving consumers who lose their prescription no choice but to get another exam or purchase lenses from the eye doctor.
· Some eye doctors refuse to release the prescription if insurance companies are late in paying a claim.
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Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.
Lisa McGiffert
(512) 477-4431