Seeing Double Regulation; Truth and Transparency about Truth and Transparency Act
Byline: Michelle Minton, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
When asked to name the most controversial medical issues of the day, few people would pick eye care. However, in the past half-century, eye care has played a surprisingly important role in the battle for economic liberty. Now it is at the center of a brewing legislative battle.
It is the familiar story of a profession trying to get government to clamp down on its competitors. In this case, it's ophthalmologists going after other providers of eye care, such as optometrists and opticians.
The tool they are using is a proposed bill, the Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act of 2011 (H.R. 451), to address the alleged problem that some health care professionals are confusing patients with misleading statements. In a press release, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says the bill would make it unlawful for any health care professional to make deceptive statements or engage in any act that misleads patients whether in person, in advertisements or marketing efforts as to one's education, training, degree, licensure or clinical experience.
On the surface, that seems harmless and reasonable enough. Yet a slightly closer examination of the proposal shows that it is unnecessary, supersedes existing state laws and regulations and is based on the assumption that consumers are too stupid to figure out the differences between licensed eye care providers.
The bill would mandate disclosure of qualifications from eye care givers in all of their advertising materials and give oversight authority to federal regulators. This might create the impression that the market for eye care is an unregulated free-for-all, with consumers at the mercy of unscrupulous quacks.
In reality, the federal government already has the power to address false or misleading advertising under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Furthermore, every single state has a thorough licensing and regulatory scheme regarding what services each brand of health care provider may provide and rules regarding honesty in advertising and disclosure of health care provider qualifications.
Optometrists, the apparent target of the ophthalmologist-backed bill, are licensed to examine, diagnose and, in some states, treat eye diseases as well as other conditions that may affect the eye. An optometrist is a doctor of optometry who, after completing a four-year medical degree, then completes a yearlong internship followed by at least three years of residency. Ophthalmologists are licensed to treat and diagnose the full range of eye health issues.
Therefore, a federal bill requiring disclosure is redundant and unnecessary. One likely result of these regulatory redundancies would be an increase in operating costs for small eye care clinics, which would have to keep an eye on new federal health care advertising rules in addition to existing state and local statutes regarding advertising and licensing. …