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  When the doctor says no

The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2004

Since 2004 there has been a new order in consumer's rights in the field of contact lenses. President Bush signed the act on December 6 th of 2003 and in 2004 it came into effect. Its purpose is to protect consumers from the conflict of interests that is characteristic of this specific industry. Eye doctors make their living on the products they prescribe and sell and referring you to alternate suppliers is not in their self-interest. The law does cut both ways, however, and today you cannot legally buy contacts without a current, valid prescription and doing so is against the law.

Today the law guarantees that you get your copy of the prescription as soon as the fitting process is done. This right is automatic and unconditional, no matter what excuses you may hear from some doctors. You don't need to pay for it, sign for it, sign a waiver to get it - or any other possible stipulation that may be presented to you. You have the right to get your prescription verified whenever you want in case you want to buy from an alternative retailer and not directly from the doctor. Your doctor must comply and cooperate with a verification request within eight business hours or the prescription is automatically verified and the order followed through.

If you have been prescribed private label, brand name contact lenses or special store brand contacts that are only available from your doctor, today you can be provided the same type lenses from the very same manufactures through almost any supplier and even on-line. You are in no way bound to purchase your contacts from the same doctor that initially examined you, even if you were given a pair of lenses for a trial period while you were being fitted. This is often done to make sure the prescription is accurate over time. After the trial period you may buy your initial box and your replacement box of lenses from whomever you please. By law, the prescription is valid for a bare minimum of a year, although this is considered a very short time and most prescriptions should be valid for several years.

Some of the excuses you may hear from a doctor unwilling to comply by law to the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2004:

Despite the growing awareness of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, some few doctors either refuse to give you your prescription after the evaluation or offer any number of excuses why they can't give them to you. Unlike other types of doctors, which don't make any direct profit from the medical prescription they provide for treatment, eye doctors make their livelihoods from the eye products they sell. This is an obvious conflict of interest, as it is in the doctor's self-interest to have you buy your contacts from them.

However uncomfortable the situation, you should understand your rights on the issue so that you can decide what to do. With especially difficult eye practitioners, the easiest course of action is to go to another doctor, get through another examination and get a new prescription. This is not the course of action we recommend, as this only exasperates the problem, and any doctor refusing to follow the law is clearly in the wrong. Some do it because they think this will force your hand into buying at their store and in many cases, they're right. You are not without options, however. First and foremost, you can report the doctor and refuse to purchase your contact lenses there. By law, the doctor has to provide you with a copy of your prescription whether you asked for it or not. Today it's usually stapled to your receipt. You can get it by phone, by fax or in person and no one may charge you a fee for it. Any doctor that doesn't comply with the law is in violation of section 18 of the Federal Commission Act.

Some doctors will ask you to sign a waiver , as if giving you your prescription is an illegal act and they may be held liable if any complications derive from it. The complete opposite is true, and the demand of a waiver is an illegal act meant to intimidate you into thinking you may be doing something wrong in asking for the prescription or considering purchasing from someone else. The only thing you have to sign at an eye doctors is the check or receipt in case of payment after services rendered. There are no waivers or any other documents you have to sign to get your prescription. A second common excuse is that the prescription has already released once and cannot be released again . This is also not true and by law you have the right to your prescription whenever you want it.

Some doctors will attempt to steer you away from buying your contacts through an alternate retailer . Trying to convince you that buying your contacts on-line or through another option is an effective scare tactic designed to make you buy your lenses directly from the doctor. There are risks involved in buying lenses on-line, but they are easily avoided if you have an up-to-date, valid prescription and buy from credited optical suppliers on the internet. These companies are also regulated by the FDA and you can go on-line to get the FDA approved list of internet contact suppliers. You have the right to buy your contacts anywhere you wish, without having to suffer any unsolicited advice or pressure from your eye practitioner. Certainly it's considered unethical and unprofessional in the extreme to pressure a patient into buying only what your store sells without exploring other options.

Another thing you may be told is that you can't get the prescription because the fitting process isn't yet complete. This is only partly true; for first-time contact lens users the fitting process may take several attempts until you are both comfortable and seeing clearly and effectively. Even then, a few fittings should suffice unless you have especially sensitive eyes or an especially complicated visual condition that requires custom-made lenses. As soon as the fittings are done, there is absolutely no reason not to get your copy of the prescription. The only reason to hold off giving you your copy if you are a long-time contact user is if you have decided to change brands or have switched from one extreme to another, such as from rigid gas-permeable lenses to soft daily disposables. As soon as the transition is complete and you are sure of your prescription, you should automatically receive a copy. There is no reason to withhold your prescription if you are just getting a refill and it should be valid for a minimum of a year.

This year-minimum validity date begins on the day you are given the prescription - so it should be dated on that same day- and not from the date of your eye examination. This leads us directly to another contact lens myth that some doctors perpetuate . Some doctors will tell you that a year is the maximum time of validity for a prescription slip. By law, one year is the minimum time allotted for a prescription, not the maximum. We recommend you have your eyes examined once a year because this could reduce the chance of any eye conditions occurring and deteriorating without your knowledge. Obviously, its good advice to take care of your body and go to regular check-ups. However, you aren't required to by law and your prescription isn't restricted to a year.

Some doctors will give you your eye glass prescription instead of your contact prescription . These are not interchangeable in any way, and besides- the prescription are different for each correction. Sometimes, even if you are given the contact lens prescription, it will lack pertinent information, such as the brand name of disposable contacts, which is an essential piece of information and that particular type of lens can't be bought without it. Some will demand that you come for the prescription in person and sign for it, despite the fact that by law you have the right to receive your prescription either in hard copy, phone or fax.

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