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A Real Eyesore: Medical Lobbyists Stifling Innovation

Like the taxi industry's push to ban Uber/Lyft, optometrists are pushing to ban new cost-cutting and time-saving eye technology.

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A Real Eyesore: Medical Lobbyists Stifling Innovation

Today, we are blessed to have so many new innovations that are saving us time and driving down prices to record lows.

Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft are just a few examples of smartphone apps that have empowered consumers by breaking up what were once ultra-powerful, untouchable industries. Thanks to these developments, we now have more money in our pockets and more smiles on our faces.

It is certainly great to be living in the 21st century; that is, unless you represent the old way of doing things. And we see the Old Guard’s pouts all the time -- whether it’s the taxi industry lobbying state legislatures to ban the use of Uber, or the big hotel chains pushing politicians to ban short-term housing rentals from the market.

But there’s one fight that’s not getting much press at all, and that’s the protectionist battle currently brewing in the eye industry. In fact, you probably had no idea that it was going on at all.

Believe it or not, there are now online vision screening services that will allow you to get cheap eye prescriptions, signed off on by a doctor, from the comfort of your own home.

That’s right: as long as you have a smartphone or computer screen, you’re in.

One of them called Opternative has been particularly effective, and the consumer reviews have been astounding. And why wouldn’t they be? Who can possibly complain about cheap eye exams received in your pajamas with no wait time at all?

Everyone seems to be a fan of this new technology except for the optometrists themselves. Similarly to the flustered taxi drivers in New York, they fear that ocular telemedicine will one day force them to close their doors.

The chief problem here is that optometrists are not like ophthalmologists. They are not medical doctors, and aside from vision tests, what they can actually service is very limited in scope. But even vision tests aren’t that profitable for them. In truth, optometrists depend upon the sale of overpriced consumer goods (glasses and contact lenses) in their shops in order to stay afloat. The vision tests, of course, are what get consumers’ feet in the door, so this new technology poses a serious threat to their business model.

The optometrists’ chief talking point against ocular telemedicine is that using this technology can lead to serious eye health risks going undetected. But an op-ed in USA Today explained quite clearly why their concern is based on nothing more than fear mongering:

"Instead of acknowledging the difference between a refraction exam… and an eye health exam, the optometrists’ lobby tries to confuse the public and legislators by suggesting that patient safety is at risk, when no adult patient between 18 and 60 is recommended for an annual exam unless they have serious risk factors or a pre-existing condition."

Obviously, there is a difference between an eye health exam and a contact lens exam. Every healthy adult that uses ocular telemedicine should still get an eye health exam every two years from a licensed physician to check for infections and diseases. With that being said, it is certainly not necessary to visit an eye doctor solely to get a contact lens prescription.

After all, if even the AOA, the chief organization lobbying against the use of ocular telemedicine, admits that healthy adults only need to visit an eye doctor for eye health examinations once every 1-2 years, then what really is the issue here?

The hypocrisy of these optometrists is unbelievable. For example, their bill in New Mexico, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, will essentially prohibit doctors from using telemedicine to conduct basic screening tests. Yet, Section 1E(1) of the bill allows them to use telemedicine to treat “serious ocular diseases.”

Yes, you read that correctly: according to this bill, using telemedicine for basic tasks that threatens optometrists’ business model is considered a “fourth degree felony.” But using it to treat serious ocular diseases, which is under the purview of ophthalmologists and out of the scope of optometrists’ trade, is completely fine. They can’t be that worried about the accuracy of this technology then, can they? Nope. They’re just worried about their bottom line.

Bills introduced in other states are just as crony to the core. About a month ago, Jill Toles, a freshman legislator from Nevada, introduced a state bill that will basically prohibit the use of “automated testing devices” to obtain prescriptions. The reason she introduced the bill is simple: the optometrists’ PAC donated a sizable amount to her cause immediately before the bill was introduced.

These two states aren’t alone. Joining them in this protectionist parade is Minnesota’s Rep. Tama Theis and Sen. Karin Housley. They may also soon be joined by Rep. Kevin Ryan from Connecticut, who is interestingly a former optometrist himself.

These cronies' push to inconvenience consumers in order to preserve their outdated business model is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

As children, many of us sympathized with Mr. Bucket, the hardworking toothpaste factory employee in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, when his job was replaced with a machine. But now, we should all realize that technological improvements like these drastically boost the real wealth of the struggling citizenry and economy at large.

Yes, the Mr. Buckets of the real world -- taxi drivers, some hotel chain owners, and even optometrists -- may have to learn a new trade. But if we want to live in an ever-improving world; and if we want the economy to grow by people having more money left in their pockets to dump into useful sectors of the economy, then that’s the rules of the game.

When push comes to shove, our politicians need to take their hands off our technology. Period.

Megan Barth is a nationally recognized political commentator. She is a weekly cohost for WAR-The Wayne Allyn Root Show out of Las Vegas, NV and has appeared on Headline News CNN, NewsMax TV, One America News Network, The Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, America Trends with Dr. Gina, The Blaze Radio, and has regular weekly appearances on several nationally syndicated radio shows.

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