In a letter submitted today at the request of Virginia State Delegate Harry Purkey, staff of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Competition, and Bureau of Economics commented on three bills that the Virginia Assembly considered during the legislative session: HB 2518, which would loosen current restrictions on competition between commercial and independent optometrists; and HB 160 and SB 272, which would further impair competition between these groups of eye care professionals. According to the staff, HB 2518 is likely to benefit consumers with lower prices and is unlikely to reduce the quality of eye care. By contrast, if enacted, HB 160 and SB 272 are likely to cause Virginia consumers to pay higher prices for eye examinations and optical goods, without providing any countervailing benefits in the form of higher-quality eye care.
HB 160 and SB 272, which are identical, would amend the current Virginia law to include a prohibition on an optometrist working in any location that provides direct access to a commercial establishment. HB 2518, conversely, would ease current restrictions by eliminating the prohibitions on optometrists leasing from, and working in, a commercial establishment.
The letter notes that empirical work by the FTC and others has found “that restrictions on commercial optometric practices tend to increase prices but provide no improvement in the quality of eye care.” Drawing on this research, the staff wrote that, “Although retaining some of the current law’s restrictions on impediments to competition, HB 2518 would at least ease some of the restrictions on commercial optometric practice. HB 2518 is likely to benefit consumers with lower prices and is unlikely to reduce the quality of eye care.”
By contrast, HB 160 and SB 272 “would place further restrictions on the commercial practice of optometry,” which may have the effect of requiring some commercial practices that comply with the current Virginia law to reconfigure their physical structures to prevent customers from having any “direct access” to the area of their store that sells optometric goods. These new restrictions, moreover, may fall disproportionately on wholesale club chains, which are low-cost sellers of optical goods. “Thus, HB 160 and SB 272 are likely to cause Virginia consumers to pay higher prices for eye examinations and optical goods without providing any countervailing benefits in the form of higher quality eye care.”
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to submit the letter to Virginia Delegate Harry Purkey was 5-0. Copies of the letter can be found on the FTC’s Web site as a link to this press release.
Copies of the documents mentioned in this release are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. Call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP. The comments represent the views of the staff in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Economics, and Office of Policy Planning and not those of the FTC or any individual commissioner.