Further questions and answers in the world of prescription eye wear
In May of this year The Peak ran an article entitled “Optometry retailers have students seeing red”. The article introduced readers to the world of Optometry and the issues surrounding the purchase of glasses in store or online, and the fees and measurements associated with both. The measurement in question was that of the PD measurement, and how it was charged for during glasses purchases. A broader look at the issue revealed that the selling of the PD measurement was a reaction to a much bigger issue both provincially and nationally regarding the battle between the medical establishment and online outlets in regards to the selling of prescription eye wear.
Are glasses in the realm of medical devices? Are they an accessory? Should you need a prescription for glasses? Should it be the consumers’ responsibility to ensure their prescriptions are up to date?
Such questions are at the forefront in the debate regarding the deregulation of eyewear in British Columbia and have been since then-Health Minister, Kevin Falcon, changed the health regulations in May 2010. Deregulation has given rise to numerous concerns about the risk to the public now that glasses or contacts can be dispensed by anyone, and without the seller requiring a physical prescription.
At the time, Antoinette Dumalo, president of the British Columbia Association of Optometrists, made her concerns clear in a letter to members on April 30, 2010. She wrote, “Deregulating eye exams, allowing opticians to independently provide automated refractions and allowing the unregulated sale of eyewear will most certainly put British Columbian’s eye sight and health at risk.”
That was in 2010. The national battle lines for this debate however, have reignited in recent months, and the end game for either side may be rapidly approaching.
With British Columbia heading for an election on May 14, 2013, this election could swing the argument for one side or the other. If Adrian Dix is successful in his campaign for premier, this policy may be revisited by the NDP; there is no visible indication that the opinions on this policy by either the NDP or the BCAO have recently changed.
From a business perspective, letting the free market decide this game seems natural, as technological development is changing the way business is done. That belief has been reflected in the ministry of health office, where Kevin Falcon wass quoted as saying, “With advances in technology and more consumers turning to the Internet, it makes sense to modernize a decades-old system to give British Columbians more choice while maintaining public safety.”
In the political arena, it has been argued that this regulation was only to the benefit of one company. This is a result of deregulation that allowed Vancouver based Clearly Contacts to dispense eyewear without validation of a prescription. At the time of its unveiling, Kevin Falcon faced allegations of a conflict of interest by the NDP: the Liberals had received a party donation from Clearly Contacts; and an email from Roger Hardy, founder and CEO of Clearly Contacts, was leaked asking his customers to join the Liberal party and vote for Kevin Falcon as the next premier.
On the other side of the nation, the discussion is also reaching a pinnacle. A quick search of the Ontario lobbying registry reveals that Coastal.com (formerly Clearly Contacts) has registered this year in Ontario, which may indicate an broader push to deregulate eyewear there.
Residents of other provinces can already get around regulation. This is because eyewear from online companies is subject to the regulations of the province the firm is registered in. For example, residents in Ontario can take advantage of B.C.’s deregulation by ordering from companies like B.C.-based Coastal.com. If Ontario follows suit, it would ensure two of the country’s biggest markets will have deregulated prescription eyewear.
At this point, what happens in Ontario or B.C. could determine the fate of the other and the direction of the industry at a national level. Whatever occurs, it appears that May 14 2013 may be the date that decides the fate of eyewear regulation in Canada.