Optometry Ousted from Eyeware Business?

No-Costco-296x300As you read this release, consider if there are implications for private practice optometrists?  While perhaps a stretch, is this a precursor to the elimination of the ability for optometrists to sell eyeware?  What impact might this have on Vision Plans, who both secure exams and sell eyeware direct to consumer?   How about impact on on-line purveyors of eyeware?

What do you think?

Costco Wholesale Corp. violates California’s ban on so-called one-stop shops by employing optometrists and allowing them share private patient information with opticians who sell eyewear in the same store, according to a class action removed to California federal court Wednesday.

Customer Jason DeCarlo alleges that Costco offers customers the ability to obtain both an eye examination from an optometrist and eyewear from an optician in its retail stores, violating California’s law which seeks to protect customers from the hazards of combined operations, under which optometrists’ professional judgment could be influenced by the financial interests of the business, according to the complaint.

The complaint, originally filed Oct. 30 in California Superior Court, also alleges that because of the joint operation, Costco engages in a deceptive business practice and is able to charge above-market prices for its eyewear. Additionally, DeCarlo claims that Costco’s health care providers disclose medical information regarding patients to retail employees without obtaining authorization.

“Mr. DeCarlo would not have agreed to undergo what amounts to an illegal eye examination had he known that defendants’ joint enterprise was illegal as well and/or the rationales which prompted the California Legislature to ban the practice,” the complaint said.

California’s law prohibits joint business relationships between opticians, or retailers of prescription eyewear, and optometrists, those who hold a doctor of optometry degree and who write prescriptions for corrective lenses, according to the complaint. This law includes a ban on the one-stop shops where a business arranges for an optometrist to provide eye examinations on or near the retail space where the eyewear is sold.

The law, upheld by the Ninth Circuit in 2012, is designed to insulate optometrists from the commercial business of selling eyewear, the suit said.

However, the complaint alleges that Costco continues to offer customers the ability to obtain an eye examination and to buy eyewear in its retail stores, a service it advertises on its website.

Costco also violates the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act by sharing patient medical information with retail employees without patient consent, the suit said.

“During eye examinations at defendant’s retail locations, Costco’s optometrists obtain medical information from patients during the patient history review and eye examinations,” the suit said. “The Costco optometrist then provides that medical information to Costco retail employees not under the direct supervision or control of the optometrists, and is provided for marketing and/or sales purposes, not for medical reasons.”

DeCarlo seeks to represent all customers who purchased eye examinations or eyewear at a Costco store after examination by an optometrist affiliated with the Costco store within four years preceding the filing of the complaint.

The suit asks for $1,000 in nominal damages for each release of medical information, in addition to actual damages, restitution, disgorgement and injunctive relief.


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