Can I Buy Contact Lenses
Without a Prescription?
Contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and cannot be purchased legally in the United States without a valid prescription written by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
But that doesn't mean you don't have choices when it comes to where to buy your contacts if you do have a valid prescription.
Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act
The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act ensures your ability to shop around when buying contacts so you can compare prices and get the best deal based on price, convenience and other factors.
The Act was passed by Congress in 2003 and required the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop guidelines that spell out the Act's requirements and enforce its provisions.
The FTC issued these guidelines called the Contact Lens Rule in July 2004. The Rule establishes requirements both for eye doctors who prescribe contact lenses and retailers who sell them.
Rules for Contact Lens Prescribers
The Contact Lens Rule says that eye care professionals who are permitted under state law to fit and issue prescriptions for contact lenses must:
- Give a copy of the contact lens prescription to the patient at the end of the contact lens fitting even if the patient doesn't ask for it.
- Provide or verify the contact lens prescription to anyone who is designated to act on behalf of the patient, including contact lens sellers.
- When responding to a contact lens verification request from a seller, correct any inaccuracy in the prescription being verified and inform the seller if the prescription has expired or is otherwise invalid.
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Rules for Contact Lens Sellers
The Contact Lens Rule requires contact lens sellers to:
- Provide contact lenses only in accordance with a valid prescription that is directly presented to the seller or has been verified by the contact lens prescriber.
- If verification is required such as when a consumer decides to buy contact lenses online and provides their contact lens information by filling out a webpage form sellers must contact the prescribing doctor to verify the accuracy of the prescription before filling the order.
Contact Lens Verification
Under the Contact Lens Rule, if a contact lens prescriber fails to communicate with a contact lens seller within eight business hours of receiving a complete verification request from the seller, the contact lens prescription is considered verified and the retailer can sell the contacts to the consumer without a response from the prescriber.
The Rule also requires contact lens sellers to maintain records of the contact lens prescriptions they fill, the prescription verification requests they send to doctors and prescriber responses to these requests.
You can get more information about the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act and the Contact Lens Rule by visiting the FTC website or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
About the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 25 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include contact lenses, nutrition and preventive vision care. Connect with Dr. Heiting via Google+.
[Page updated February 2014]
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