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Buying Prescription Glasses or Contact Lenses: Your Rights

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Getting your routine eye exam is an important part of living a healthy life. After any eye checkup, you have the right to get a copy of your prescription from your eye care professional — whether you ask for it or not — at no extra charge. Wherever you choose to buy your glasses or contact lenses, your prescription lets you shop around for the best deal. The FTC enforces the Eyeglass Rule and Contact Lens Rule, which give you those rights.

Your Right to Your Prescription

Your eye care professional has to give you a copy of your prescription — whether you ask for it or not — for glasses, after you get an eye exam; and for contact lenses, after your fitting is complete (which may require two visits). It’s the law.

To get your prescription, know that your eye care professional:

  • can’t make you pay an extra fee
  • may not say you have to buy eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • can’t tell you to sign a waiver or release

Here’s what else to know:

  • You don’t have to buy glasses or contact lenses from your eye care professional. You have a right to go and find the style (for glasses) and price that work for you somewhere else, in person or online. Having a copy of your prescription lets you do that.
  • You have a right to get an additional copy of your contact lens prescription. If you need another copy of your prescription, or a business has your permission to get a copy, your eye care professional has 40 business hours to send it.
  • Your eye care professional can, and probably will, charge you for the eye exam and a separate contact lens fitting fee. But the eye care professional can only require you to pay for your exam, contact lens fitting, or evaluation before giving you a copy of your prescription if they require immediate payment from all eye exam patients. Proof of insurance counts as payment for eye exam fees, but many insurance policies do not cover contact lens fitting fees.
  • In some states, your eye care professional can charge you for a pupillary distance measurement. That’s measuring the distance between your pupils. You’ll need this measurement to buy glasses online. A few states require eye care professionals to include the pupillary distance on the prescription, but many don’t.
  • HIPAA doesn’t stop an eye care professional from giving out your prescription. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects your medical privacy. But your eye care professional can give your prescription to you or to a business that has your permission to get it.

Buying Contact Lenses

Your eye care professional has to give you your contact lens prescription when they complete your fitting. They also should ask you to sign a confirmation that you got a copy of your prescription.

Here’s what to know:

  • A contact lens fitting may require more than one appointment. If you’ve never worn contact lenses before, or you’re trying a new type or brand of lenses, your prescriber may want you to wear the lenses for a few days. Then, they’ll evaluate how the lenses fit at an in-person follow-up appointment. Sometimes, your prescriber may want to follow up with you by phone or through a virtual video appointment and ask some additional questions to help determine that the lenses work for you. In both of these situations, the fitting would not be complete until the end of the second appointment, whether in-person or virtual.

On the other hand, if you’re a contact lens wearer who has no change in your prescription, your prescriber may be able to finalize your prescription at the end of the initial appointment. At that point, they are required to give you your prescription automatically.

  • If the prescriber is willing to sell you lenses, that means the fitting is complete. You should get, or be in the process of getting your prescription automatically, whether or not you buy lenses from the prescriber.
  • You have a right to a paper copy of your contact lens prescription. But if you wish to get an electronic copy of the prescription instead of a paper copy, you have to agree to that in writing or electronically. You also have to agree to the specific way you’ll get the prescription (email, portal, or text). If you get your prescription electronically, your provider must make it accessible, downloadable, and printable.
  • The Contact Lens Rule saysyour contact lens prescription must include
    • your name
    • the date of your exam
    • when your prescription was issued, and when it expires
    • the name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number of the eye care professional
    • the power, material, and/or manufacturer of the prescribed lens
    • the base curve or appropriate designation of the lens
    • the diameter of the lens, when appropriate
    • if you wear private label brand or store brand contacts (often sold by large eye care practices or optical chains), the name of the manufacturer, the brand name, and the name of any identical lens from the same manufacturer, if that applies

Here are some other things for contact lens wearers to know:

  • Typically, if you want a different brand than the one written on your prescription, you need your eye care professional’s approval.
  • You don’t need your eye care professional’s approval to switch brands if a manufacturer offers a brand name and a generic or store brand version of the same lens.
  • Your eye care professional should ask you to sign a confirmation that you were given a copy of the prescription.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has good advice on healthy contact lens wear.

Buying Cosmetic Contact Lenses

You need a prescription for cosmetic contact lenses that only change your appearance.

Here’s what else to know:

  • Businesses that sell cosmetic lenses without getting or verifying your prescription are selling them illegally. They should ask for a copy of your prescription or check your prescription information with your eye care professional.
  • If you’re in the market for cosmetic contacts, see an eye care professional for an eye exam and prescription. Only buy contacts from sellers who require a prescription or will check the prescription information with your eye care professional. Your continued good vision depends on it.
  • Contact lenses, including cat eyes or lenses that change your eye color, can harm your eyes unless they’re properly fitted. An eye care professional needs to examine your overall eye health and give you a proper contact lens fitting before you wear lenses. Otherwise, you might face serious injuries or complications like:
    • eye pain or discomfort
    • red or swollen eyes
    • blurred or decreased vision
    • corneal abrasion (cut or scratch on top layer of eye)
    • allergic reactions (itchy, watery, or red eyes)
    • infection
    • blindness

Using Your Prescription

  • If you want to buy glasses or contacts from someone other than your eye care professional,give a copy of the prescription to the seller yourself. That way you can be sure the seller has accurate information. Online sellers should tell you how to send or upload a copy of your prescription.
  • If you don’t give the seller your actual contact lens prescription, you’ll need to give them information about it — for example, the brand or manufacturer of the recommended contacts, the power, base curve, or diameter. You’ll also need to tell the seller how to get in touch with your eye care professional to send a request to verify the contact lens prescription information. For contact lenses especially, it’s important to give the seller the correct information. If you don’t, and your eye care professional doesn’t respond to the seller’s request within eight business hours, the seller can sell you those lenses — but you may wind up with lenses that aren’t your prescription.
  • If you’re not buying glasses or contacts anytime soon, keep a copy of your prescription in a safe place. Or take a picture of it and save it on your phone or computer. You want to be able to find it if you need to order glasses or contacts quickly.
  • State law determines when your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses will expire. Eyeglass prescriptions usually are good for a year or two, but state laws vary. The Contact Lens Rule says that contact prescriptions must be good for at least a year, unless your eye care professional has a medical reason for making it shorter. Don’t try to buy glasses or contact lenses with an expired prescription. Your eye health changes over time, so it’s important to have regular comprehensive eye health exams.

Report Rule Violations

If you think an eye care professional is violating the Eyeglass Rule or the Contact Lens Rule, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.