Starting in a few months, practices with an optical dispensary will be required to give patients a copy of their spectacle lens Rx, obtain a signed confirmation that the patient received it and keep the file on hand for three years. Photo: Getty Images.

Eyecare practices will now be obliged to obtain a signed confirmation of receipt from each patient who’s given a copy of their spectacle lens Rx and keep this on hand for three years in order to be in compliance with the Ophthalmic Practice Rule (a.k.a. the Eyeglass Rule) of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Commission announced the update earlier today. The requirement only applies to practices with an optical dispensary.

 “For decades, the FTC’s Eyeglass Rule has promoted competition by ensuring that consumers can shop around for lower prices,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, in the FTC press release. “The FTC’s updated rule will strengthen compliance and make this market more fair and competitive.”

“Eyeglasses, like contact lenses, are the stuff of everyday life and kitchen-table budgeting,” wrote Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter in a separate statement. “The rulemaking record underscores how important the prescription-release requirement is to budget-conscious consumers, too many of whom have not benefited from it, even though it has been the law since 1978.”

“Despite the rule’s longstanding existence, prescribers have not always complied with the automatic release requirement,” the FTC statement says, adding that the agency “has sent warning letters to prescribers reminding them that they must provide patients with prescriptions at the end of an exam and cannot charge a fee or require eyeglass purchase for prescription release. But even so, surveys of consumers have repeatedly found that many consumers do not automatically receive their prescription following each refractive eye exam.”

The Commission began a review of the rule in December 2022 and invited public comment from consumers and practitioners on potential revisions needed to strengthen enforcement. In a letter to the FTC dated March 6, 2023, the American Optometric Association (AOA) voiced its concerns. “Doctors of optometry practices often do not have large teams of staff members,” noted the AOA’s letter. “Across the country, 91.9% of optometry practices have fewer than 25 employees. We understand that the FTC may view an additional form or documentation requirement to be a small update to the rule, but staffing challenges in medical practices cause serious issues that should not be dismissed lightly.” The AOA letter cited a recent study that found that staffing shortages led to increased medical errors for 34% of doctors worldwide.

Such concerns do not appear to be addressed in the final rule or FTC statement.

“Too many officials and agencies remain out of touch with what we face every day in our practices, and the result can be an emboldened bureaucracy and schemes for burdensome new mandates,” says AOA President Steven T. Reed, OD, in a recent article on the AOA website responding to the news. “Our AOA will never stop fighting to change that and to stand up for the doctor-patient relationship as the foundation of optometry’s essential and expanding role in health care.” 

In addition to the new confirmation requirement, other changes to the rule are as follows:

  • the practice can provide the glasses Rx digitally if the patient agrees
  • release of the Rx “must be provided immediately after the examination is completed” and the patient “must have their prescription before any offer to sell them glasses”
  • clarifies that presentation of proof of insurance coverage shall be deemed to be a payment for the purpose of determining when a prescription must be provided
  • changes the term “eye examination” to “refractive eye examination” throughout the text and emphasizes the need for prescribers to educate consumers that there can be a difference between an eye health examination and a refractive eye examination

The FTC statement says the final rule “will be published in the Federal Register soon and will become effective 60 days after publication.”