One of the nation's largest contact lens retail companies filed complaints Monday against hundreds of Arizona optometrists for allegedly failing to turn over patients' prescriptions so they can sell them lenses.
Draper, Utah-based 1-800 Contacts filed 3,200 complaints with the state Board of Optometry, asking the board to censure or fine the optometrists or suspend or revoke their licenses.
The complaints mark a new tack by the discount contact lens supplier in an ongoing battle with contact lens manufacturers and retailers over pricing.
The company alleges the optometrists failed to follow federal and state laws requiring them to provide prescriptions to a patient's designated representative upon request.
Stacey Meier, president of the state optometric association, said his members know and follow the law and that there's no requirement that optometrists respond if the prescription is valid. He said 1-800-Contacts can fill a prescription if they don't hear back within eight business hours under "passive verification" rules.
"You don't really have to respond if everything's good, so maybe that's where they're getting some of their numbers from," Meier said.
Meier said a list has been circulating with the names of optometrists that 1-800 Contacts planned to target and that his name was on the list even though he follows the law. It wasn't known if a complaint was filed against him Monday.
A statement from the Rose Law Group, which filed the complaints for 1-800 Contacts, said they were filed to ensure consumers get "the options they deserve."
"The filed complaints are against the worst offending optometrists who failed to comply with federal and state law," the statement said. "The Arizona Board of Optometry should address these complaints and ensure that the eye care professionals they regulate are adhering to the law. They should not allow eye care professionals to deny their patients their right to their prescription nor their right to choose where to purchase their lenses."
Contact lenses are prescribed by specific brand and the prescriptions are often filled at the optometrist's office for full list prices set by the manufacturers. 1-800 Contacts has been battling the price minimums set by the lens-makers for the past several years, calling them "price-fixing." Contact lens manufacturers say their pricing programs are good for consumers.
The company got the Utah Legislature to pass a law banning manufacturers from setting price minimums in that state. The companies sued, saying Utah was violating interstate commerce regulations because it allows 1-800 Contacts to ignore price minimums in online sales to customers in other states. Utah argues those are considered in-state transactions, no matter where the customer is.
A federal appeals court in Denver is considering the case.
The company pushed similar legislation last year in Arizona that failed. This year, it is pushing an Arizona bill that extends the time a contact lens prescription is valid from one to three years.
Optometrists have opposed the legislation, saying they need to see contact lens patients once a year.
"It's a matter of the health and safety of the cornea, to make sure there's no problems developing that we can catch early and correct before it gets out of hand," Meier said.