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Consumer Reports

Patients to be able to get their contact lens anywhere under new measure | (KRT) A bill awaiting President Bush's signature would permit contact-lens wearers to save an estimated $350 million a year by shopping around their prescriptions.

The measure, which Bush is expected to sign, overrides state regulations that either required patients to buy lenses from their eye examiners or made buying elsewhere difficult. It's a victory for an estimated 36 million U.S. contact-lens wearers, and for the Internet and phone-order lens businesses whose markets it expands.

Currently, only about 10 percent of U.S. consumers get their contact lenses from a third-party distributor rather than from an eye doctor.

Most customers probably won't realize a gain "until the time next time they go to the eye doctor," said Jonathan Coon, chief executive officer of 1-800 CONTACTS. "When the doctor hands them a copy of their prescription, they'll know they have the right to choose where they want to go."

Eyeglass wearers have been allowed to shop around for deals since 1978, when the Federal Trade Commission ruled that eye examiners nationwide had to hand over prescriptions to their customers. The rule didn't cover contact lenses, which in those days required extensive fitting.

Eye examiners will have 60 days after President Bush signs the bill to comply with the rule.

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© 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services