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Consumer protection bill for eye health DOA

Updated April 13, 2017 - 9:53 am

Did you know people can use an app on their smartphone to get prescriptions for contact lenses and glasses? I had no idea.

But plenty of folks wearing soft contact lenses find it less expensive and less time-consuming to use their smartphones and receive their prescriptions through an eye test instead of going to an optometrist and getting the full exam that also checks your eye health.

Assembly Bill 129 would ban the use of these “automated testing devices” unless a full exam was performed by an optometrist or physician.

Naturally, the bill was advocated by the Nevada Board of Optometry and the Nevada Optometric Association. But opponents came from an odd coalition — the Nevada Academy of Ophthalmology and contact lense companies.

It made sense that the sellers of contact lenses, which offer the phone app option as a cheaper and convenient alternative for prescriptions, would speak against the bill.

But ophthalmologists?

Supporters of the bill testified Feb. 24 in the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee that eye exams checking the health of the eye can help early detection of glaucoma, diabetes, high blood pressure, embolisms, retinal tears and other issues. They see it as patient protection bill.

“We’re concerned people will use this tool (the app) and never get their eyes checked for their health,” said Dr. Chen Young, a Las Vegas optometrist.

The phone app is not an eye exam. It’s an eye test that measures refractive error. The images from the phone are sent to an ophthalmologist somewhere who writes a prescription for glasses or contacts.

Opponents of the bill, including representatives from Simply Contacts and 1-800-Contacts, said the use of this technology for gauging the correct prescription is effective and safe.

Derek Brown from 1-800-Contacts testified the 10-year-old Utah-based company has 22,000 customers in Nevada.

Dr. Adam Rovit, a Henderson ophthalmologist and president of the Nevada Academy of Ophthalmology, opposed the bill and said, “This is going to be the future.”

AB129 was the first bill introduced by Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, who has complicated eyes.

On April 8, she emailed me, “We decided to drop the bill after all. I am proud of the work everyone did on the issue but we couldn’t find the right amendment language to meet everyone’s goals.”

She didn’t mention that someone gave out her cellphone number and that she was flooded with nasty messages, saying she hates America and free enterprise. The Nevada Optometric Association’s lobbyist, Mike Hillerby, told me that. He said the ophthalmologists’ academy opposes it because “they don’t want anyone telling them what to do.”

Rovit conceded ophthalmologists were divided on the bill. He agreed with Hillerby that ophthalmologists want the right to use the technology and vet it themselves without the Legislature making the decisions.

Individuals must make their own decisions. Save money and perhaps not catch an eye disease until it’s too late.

Or make regular trips to the optometrist to discover your prescription doesn’t need to be changed and your eyes are fine.

I know what’s best for me. I will go regularly to my optometrist and my ophthalmologist for in-person exams.

However, blindness is one of my greatest fears.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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