Like many men of my vintage (mid-to-late middle age) I have for a few years required some vision correction. In my late forties I began to notice what was determined to be a fairly routine, normal, expected age-related farsightedness, and since then I have been wearing prescription bifocals.
Now, whenever I go to buy new glasses, I have to have an eye exam prior. Sometimes I’m glad to do so – my last purchase of spectacles, for example, I sought out the eye exam as I was certain my prescription had changed, and indeed it had. But what if I broke my glasses and just wanted a new pair? Not so much. Excerpt:
In every other country in which I’ve lived—Germany and Britain, France and Italy—it is far easier to buy glasses or contact lenses than it is here. In those countries, as in Peru, you can simply walk into an optician’s store and ask an employee to give you an eye test, likely free of charge. If you already know your strength, you can just tell them what you want. You can also buy contact lenses from the closest drugstore without having to talk to a single soul—no doctor’s prescription necessary.
So why does the United States require people who want to purchase something as simple as a curved piece of plastic to get a prescription, preceded by a costly medical exam?
The standard argument in favor of the American status quo is that impaired vision may point to serious health problems that a new pair of glasses will neither treat nor heal. Compelling Americans to see an optometrist helps to ensure that the largest possible number of cases of progressive eye diseases will be caught at an early stage.
As Barbara Horn, O.D., the president of the American Optometric Association (AOA), told me, “Today, at least 2.2 billion people around the world have a vision impairment, of whom at least 1 billion have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed … That’s why it’s clear to health experts, policymakers, the media, and the public that increased access to eye exams and eye doctors are needed to safeguard health and vision.”
But this argument rather begs the question. After all, the added cost of having to see an optometrist presumably stops many Americans from accessing the corrective lenses they need to improve their vision. Is the desirability of an eye exam performed by a medical professional a sufficient reason to prevent Americans who would rather not—or cannot—visit an optometrist from buying glasses and contacts? We can only answer this question by acknowledging a trade-off between competing goods.
On the one hand, some number of Americans who visit an optometrist to get a new prescription will indeed discover that they have a serious condition that requires immediate care. On the other hand, it is likely that a much greater number keep wearing glasses that are too weak—or won’t wear glasses at all—because they want to avoid the cost, time, or stress of a visit to a doctor.
Let’s cut through the bullshit. This is cronyism, pure and simple. If the AOA wants to make the argument above, then let them make it – pure and simple – and let the public decide. They argue that having to see an optometrist protects them from missing the diagnosis of a serious problem; but as the author here points out, the added cost may well prevent them from seeking new vision correction in the first place, so that argument doesn’t hold much water.
Once again: It’s not the role of government to shield people from the consequences of their own bad decisions. Get the government out of the business of mandating eye exams, let people make their own decisions, and let the damned AOA make their case directly to the public instead of lobbying pols to force people to do business with them!