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FTC adds final compliance-targeted updates to Eyeglass Rule

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4 min read

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reported its final changes to the Ophthalmic Practice Rules (better known as the Eyeglass Rule), just over 1.5 years after first announcing its proposal to amend the rule in order to promote competition and consumer choice.

First, give me a refresher on this rule.

The Eyeglass Rule was issued by the FTC in 1978 with the purpose of requiring eye care practitioners (ECPs) to give patients a copy of their prescription after an eye exam for no extra cost.

Its other stipulations include prohibiting ECPs from:

  • Requiring patients to purchase ophthalmic goods—such as contact lenses and eyeglasses—from their office as a mandate for receiving an eye exam that includes a refraction (even if a patient does not request it).
  • Requiring patients to pay additional fees or sign a waiver/release as a condition of verifying or releasing a prescription

Now these proposed changes.

We’ll start with those first introduced in December 2022, when the FTC announced a proposal to amend the Eyeglass Rule to include the following:

  • Pending a patient’s consent, ECPs may provide a digital copy of the glasses and/or contact lens prescription in lieu of a paper copy
    • If a patient refuses a digital copy, the ECP must provide a paper copy
  • ECPs must provide a patient with their prescription immediately following their eye exam
    • A patient must have their prescription before an ECP offers to sell glasses to them
  • ECPs can verify that a patient's proof of insurance will be payment choice for when a prescription must be provided
  • The term “eye examination” will be amended to “refractive eye examination” throughout the rule

After this: In May 2023, the FTC even held a public workshop for additional input and feedback on the proposed changes.

How does compliance come into play?

According to the FTC, these changes are intended to increase compliance due to the rule’s mandate for ECPs to give patients a free copy of their prescription after a refractive exam.

What other updates is the Commission making?

In certain instances, the Eyeglass Rule will also require prescribers to “request that their patients sign a statement confirming they received their prescription.”

They must also keep a record of that signed confirmation statement for at least 3 years.

Important to note: These updates—“which mostly mirror those already in place for contact lens prescriptions”—will only apply to optometrists and ophthalmologists “who have a financial interest in selling prescription eyewear,” according to the FTC.

And the reason for this now?

As we previously reported, the FTC stated that consumer complaints regarding violations to this rule in the last few years have led to more warning letters being issued to ECPs practicing across the country.

Case in point: In January 2023, the FTC sent 24 cease-and-desist letters to ECPs for failing to comply with the rules; prior to that, 28 letters were forwarded to ECPs in 2020.

So in a nutshell?

These changes are being implemented to ensure consumers' choices are protected from prescribers who fail to give patients their prescriptions automatically, as stated by the FTC.

Where can I see these changes?

Click here to view the full pdf version.

Lastly, when will these updates take effect?

The Commission announced that these changes will be published in the Federal Register in the near future and take effect 60 days following publication.

*Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, materials available herein are for general information purposes only.

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