Desperate to Stop New Eye Care Technology, Lobbyists Fight State by State

Steve Sherman
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Posted: May 04, 2017 11:27 AM
Desperate to Stop New Eye Care Technology, Lobbyists Fight State by State

Technological advances are changing our lives in amazing ways. When I grew up, technology meant a green screen and MS DOS. Most of you who are younger than me have never heard of that. Exactly the point of this commentary. DOS is gone the way of the dinosaur. New technology replaced it in a few short years.

The speed in which our technology is changing is mind boggling when looked at as a whole. In the process of these wonderful advances, some tried and true industries are literally being wiped out seemingly overnight.

Smart phone technology has enabled Uber and Lyft to absolutely change how we get around without our own vehicle. Does anyone say, “Call me a cab” anymore?

We are used to 24/7 access to information, to our friends, and the digital world. That wasn’t the case just a few short years ago. Change is inevitable, but the rapid speed it’s coming makes it difficult for many to keep up with. It can be hard to swallow if you are one of the industries getting pushed aside.

Over the past year, I’ve chronicled the war raging around the changing technology in eye care. The short of it is that technology has advanced to the point where we don’t need the eye doctors like we used to, especially in relation to contacts. The contact lens business is a billion-dollar industry that has been under the control of the old-school eye care industry for decades.

It was an agreement to control the supply and access of contact lenses to the public. The control comes from a benevolent government full of crony capitalists requiring that contacts must only come through an eye doctor. This meant the public had to go to those eye doctors and pay for appointments and then buy the lenses right there. A win-win for the eye doctor.

The lobbyists for the eye doctors protected this cozy relationship for years. While federal legislation has failed to stop the problem at all, nothing will hold back the new technology that has broken the stranglehold on the contact lens industry.

Freedom always finds a way. I firmly believe that. It may take some time and struggle, but the human spirit yearns for freedom, even in something as trivial as getting contacts.

The new technology allows our blurry-eyed brothers and sisters to go online and measure their eye prescriptions from the comfort of their own homes. The prescription is then signed off on by a board-certified ophthalmologist and they are good to go. Consumers can then easily shop for the best lens deals available, purchase the product they want, and wait for it show up at their front door without going into the eye doctor to accomplish this commerce.

The medical lobby is firmly against anything that disrupts the flow of money and this new tech is disrupting that flow immensely. They claim safety for the consumer as the No. 1 reason this is a bad idea to validate the need for the eye doctor. This claim is nonsensical, as even those who make use of this technology still need to go to the eye doctor once every two years for a comprehensive eye health exam. The safety concern argument has failed to turn the tide of technological change at the federal level, so now the fight has moved to the states.

In South Carolina, former Governor Nikki Haley shot down ocular telemedicine legislation with her veto power, saying “it uses health practice mandates to stifle competition for the benefit of a single industry, putting us on the leading edge of protectionism, not innovation.”

In other states, the fight continues as the old way of doing things takes its last breaths.

Nevada Assemblywoman Jill Tolles pulled her bill sponsored by the medical lobby after constituents made their voice heard.

Last month, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a bill sponsored by the American Optometric Association (AOA) that would have given jail time to physicians who advocated consumer based technology!

Similarly, crony eyecare friendly bills are being pushed forward in Connecticut by Rep. Kevin Ryan and in Rhode Island by Rep. Robert Jacquard and Sen. Frank Ciccone.

Crony capitalism is just as ugly at the state level as it is in D.C. State representatives trying to help the medical lobby are on the wrong side of innovation and are fighting a losing battle. It’s a brave new world for ocular technology.

Fighting to stop technology that improves people’s lives is like trying to hold back the tide.