Produced in cooperation with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians, and the Opticians Association of America.
If you, like many Americans, wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you probably know that
comparison shopping can help you find quality eyewear that meets your budget. In fact, your
ability to comparison shop for eyeglasses is aided by a Federal Trade Commission Regulation.
Under federal law, you have a right to a copy of your eyeglass prescription so that you can shop for the
best value in eyewear. If you are buying contact lenses, comparison shopping also can help
you find an eye care specialist who offers products and services suited for you.
This fact sheet explains what rights you have under the law and gives you information
about various types of eye care professionals. It also gives some suggestions about selecting
an eye care specialist and shopping for eye exams, eyeglasses, and contact lenses.
Your Legal Rights
The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) "Prescription Release Rule" requires eye doctors
to give you your eyeglass prescription, at no extra cost, immediately after an eye exam that includes
a refraction (a test that determines the prescription needed to correct your vision). Your
eye doctor may withhold your eyeglass prescription until you have paid for your eye exam, but only if
your eye doctor requires immediate payment whether or not a visual correction is needed.
*[Some eye doctors will fill and dispense prescription eyewear prior to an insurance payment
for the refraction, and yet, if the patient wants to take the prescription outside the doctors office
then full payment must be made first.]
With prescription in hand, you can shop for eyeglasses just as you would for other health-related products
and services, looking for the best quality at the best price. You have a legal right to your
eyeglass prescription, so request [demand] it if it is not provided immediately after an eye
examination in which a refraction is performed.
Although not required by federal law, many eye care specialists will give you a copy
of your contact lens specifications. Some states [not Kansas] require eye care
specialists to give you a copy of your contact lens specification. It is important to have a
copy of these specifications if you want to buy your contact lenses, especially replacement or duplicate
lenses, from a different specialist. Otherwise, you may have to pay for another lens
Selecting an Eye Care Specialist
Price is not your only consideration in choosing someone to examine your eyes, fill your
prescription, or fit you for contact lenses. You also might be concerned about: the type of
eye care specialist you wish to visit; the quality of eye care and eye wear you may receive; and the
service that is promised, especially if some adjustments or modifications prove necessary.
Before selecting an eye care specialist, you should know the difference among the three
types of eye care specialists -- ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians -- and the services
each is qualified to perform. Only ophthalmologists and optometrists may issue eyeglass
and contact lens prescriptions. Ophthalmologists are physicians who are either medical
doctors (M.D.'s) or osteopathic physicians (D.O's). They specialize in diagnosing and
treating diseases of the eyes. They can prescribe drugs, perform examinations and eye
surgery, and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Optometrists have doctor of optometry degrees (O.D's). Though they are not medical doctors,
they can examine eyes for vision problems and eye diseases and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses.
State law determines the extent to which optometrists may diagnose and treat eye diseases
and prescribe drugs, and laws vary from state to state. In states where optometrists are
not permitted to provide certain treatments, they will normally refer you to an ophthalmologist or
other appropriate medical practitioner for such treatments.
Opticians fill prescriptions for eyewear written by ophthalmologists and optometrists. They
may not examine eyes or prescribe lenses. They dispense eyeglasses and in some states are
permitted to fit and dispense contact lenses. [in Kansas opticians are not allowed to fit but are
allowed to dispense contact lenses] About half the states require opticians to be licensed.
[Kansas is not one of them]
Quality of Eye Care and Eye Wear
It may be difficult to predict the quality of the eye care, eyewear, and related
services you will receive. Studies show that price and the type of practitioner are not
necessarily indications of quality.
To help ensure quality care, you might ask for recommendations from your friends. You also
might want to check with local consumer affairs offices and consumer organizations to see if any
complaints have been lodged against the eye care specialist you are considering.
Investigate what kind of service eye care providers will give you, especially if you
have a problem. You may want to consider the following information.
Eye Exams: A thorough eye examination includes a refraction, tests for other vision conditions, and
an eye health exam. An eye exam also can reveal whether you are a good candidate for
contact lenses. Remember, only MD's, DO's and OD's may perform eye exams.
Eyeglasses: If your eye exam shows you need a visual correction, you may decide you want eyeglasses.
Ask about the delivery time for eyeglasses, any refund policy, and who pays for replacement
lenses or frames if there are problems with either the lenses or the frames.
Contact Lenses: Contact lenses are important health care devices that require proper fitting
and care. Thus, if you decide you want to buy contact lenses, additional steps are necessary
beyond the basic eye exam -- the contact lens evaluation and the fitting. They include
measuring the curvature of your eye and determining which lens is best for you. The evaluation
and fitting may be performed by ophthalmologists, optometrists, and, in some states, opticians.
[but not Kansas]
Comparison Shopping For Contacts
Because buying contact lenses is more complicated than buying eyeglasses, here are
some questions you might ask eye care specialists.
What do you charge for an eye exam, lenses, a contact lens evaluation, fittings, a lens care kit,
follow-up visits, and "insurance" service agreements?
These items may be priced individually or sold as a package. Some advertisements for contact
lenses quote bargain prices for the contact lenses alone. But bargain-priced contact
lenses may not be the best purchase if the other essential goods and services are not included in
If you are a first-time wearer of contact lenses, you will need services like fittings and follow-up
visits in addition to lenses. Even experienced contact wearers may require several appointments
before they get a proper fit.
So before you select an eye care specialist, ask about the total cost of care, including what tests
are included in the eye exam. A reasonably-priced package may be a better deal than
bargain-priced goods that do not include free follow-up visits.
What is your refund policy?
Not everyone who wants to wear contacts is able to adapt to them. With a
good refund policy, you will not lose your entire investment if you cannot wear the contacts.
How many types and brands of contacts do you sell?
It may take several visits to find the right contact lenses for your eyes.
If the specialist carries a large selection of contact lenses, it can increase your chances of getting
a good fit.
How much do you charge for replacement lenses?
It is possible to lose or damage contact lenses. Find out how much you will
be charged and how Long you will have to wait if you need a replacement lens. Many providers
offer service agreements, also known as "insurance" arrangements, that will cover the full or partial
cost of replacing lost or damaged lenses. Find out whether such an agreement is available,
what it covers, and how much it costs compared to the cost of replacement lenses.
What is your policy on the release of my contact lens specifications?
Under the FTC Rule, the eye care specialist must provide you with your eyeglass prescription,
but not your contact lens specifications. Without these measurements, comparison shopping
for contact lenses is difficult, if not impossible. Ask about the doctor's policy before
you make an appointment for an eye exam. If you want a copy of your contact lens specifications,
shop for an eye care provider who will release it to you.
Notes in [brackets] by Kent Miller ABO Certified
For More Information
If you have questions about your rights under the FTC's Rule governing eyeglasses, write:
Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580. Although the FTC generally
does not intervene in individual disputes, the information you provide helps in its law enforcement
For information about other consumer issues, send for a list of more than 100 free FTC publications. Write: Best Sellers, Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580.
Last modified: 8:35PM on 9/7/95
Last modified 8:30AM on 7/2/95