A bill in California’s Legislature meant to codify and authorize LensCrafters’s long-time business model and thereby shield it from further litigation is sparking opposition among some optometrists and the California Optometric Association.

At issue is the optical retail giant’s relationship with the optometrists employed by Luxottica’s EyeMed Vision Care plan. The bill explicitly allows LensCrafters and other optical businesses to “own a health care service plan that provides vision care services,” among other stipulations.

The bill’s supporters wish to deflect legal threats against LensCrafters’s “co-location” business model where an O.D. examines a patient’s eyes and an optician fills an eyewear prescription in one visit. A coalition of health care businesses and organizations as well as optometrists represented by Californians for Healthy Vision—of which LensCrafters is a member—holds that, “Without a change in state law, millions of Californians may no longer receive eye care from their local optometrists and fill their prescription at a convenient one-stop location.” 

The COA believes that LensCrafters’s business model violates California statutes prohibiting economic relationships between optometrists and opticians. “California has a long history of protecting the independence of optometrists and physicians from lay control,” says COA President Page Yarwood, O.D. “This proposed legislation is contrary to that policy.”

The proposed legislation is a result of several lawsuits:

  • California’s Attorney General in February 2002 contended that Pearle Vision (later to be acquired by Luxottica) competed unfairly by violating the state’s Business and Professions Code. California’s Supreme Court later ruled in favor of the AG.
  • The National Association of Optometrists and Opticians, along with LensCafters, in 2002 went to federal court wishing to see California’s Business and Professions Code declared unconstitutional. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but an appeals judge reversed the decision. The case was retried last year,  and the judge ruled in favor of the state, citing that the statutes’s burden on interstate commerce did not outweigh their benefits.
  • A class-action suit in March 2002 alleged that LensCrafters violated statutes concerning patient confidentiality and engaged in unlawful or unfair business practices. A 2008 settlement granted the plaintiffs store vouchers and a cash option, while LensCrafters was asked to make undisclosed “enhancements,” to its business practices.
LensCrafters appealed to its allies in Sacramento to craft legislation that allows a loophole from the Business and Professions Code to which its detractors have resorted in court. In early May the bill passed a Business and Professions Committee vote before going to the Assembly floor. From there, LensCrafters must convince the Golden State’s senators and Gov. Jerry Brown that the retailer holds patients’ interests above all else.