After considering more than 800 public comments, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed updating its Ophthalmic Practice Rules, known as the Eyeglass Rule, to ensure ophthalmologists and optometrists provide patients with a copy of their prescription immediately after the completion of a refractive eye exam, get a signed statement from the patient confirming that they have received their prescription, and keep a record of that confirmation for at least three years.
“This rule is made to protect consumer choice by empowering them to decide where they fill their eyeglass prescriptions, yet too many prescribers are failing to give patients their prescriptions automatically,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “To remedy that and enforce the law we are proposing that prescribers now get a signed confirmation when they release prescriptions to their patients.”
Issued in 1978, the FTC’s Eyeglass Rule helps facilitate consumer choice and promote competition in the eyeglass market by requiring prescribers to provide patients with a copy of their eyeglass prescription immediately after an eye exam that includes a refraction, even if the patient does not request it.
Under the rule, prescribers also cannot require that patients buy eyeglasses as a condition of providing them with a copy of their prescription, place a liability waiver on the prescription, require patients to sign a waiver, or require patients to pay an additional fee in exchange for a copy of their prescription. Prescribers further cannot refuse to perform an eye exam unless the patient buys eyeglasses, contact lenses, or other ophthalmic goods from them.
In response to consumer complaints over the past several years, the FTC has sent warning letters to prescribers reminding them that they must provide patients with prescriptions at the end of an exam; cannot charge a fee or require eyeglass purchase for prescription release.
In the notice of proposed rulemaking announced today, the Commission is seeking comment on proposed measures that would:
- Require prescribers to request that each patient sign an acknowledgement confirming they have received their eyeglass prescription, and to retain such confirmation for three years;
- Allow prescribers, with a patient’s verifiable affirmative consent, to provide the patient with a digital copy of a prescription in lieu of a paper copy;
- Clarify that a patient’s proof of insurance coverage will be deemed to be a payment for the purpose of determining when a prescription must be provided; and
- Change the term “eye examination” to “refractive eye examination” throughout the rule.
The notice includes a preliminary regulatory analysis concluding that despite some increased costs from the confirmation retention requirement, the overall burden of the rule on prescribers would remain relatively small in the context of the total market for eyeglasses and refractive examinations.
The Commission also made a preliminary finding that the potential benefits of increasing the number of patients in possession of their eyeglass prescriptions are substantial. After the Commission reviews the comments received, it will decide whether to issue a final rule.
The Commission vote approving publication of the notice in the Federal Register was 4-0. It will be published in the Register in early January 2023, after which consumers can submit comments electronically or in writing for 60 days for Commission consideration.
Information for Consumers and Businesses
The FTC has information to help consumers understand their rights under federal law. See: Buying Prescription Glasses or Contact Lenses: Your Rights. Information to help businesses comply with the rule also is available.