Another HealthCare Demand That Can Be Streamlined By the FDA
Once again, the Federal Government has demonstrated what can be done to accelerate good policy changes when time is of the essence. The move to take Pfizer’s mRNA Covid19 vaccine and convert it from an Emergency Use Authorization to full approval shows that when it comes to health services for Americans, the “will” of public demand can actually make what seems impossible (getting a vaccine fully approved in a timeframe eons short of a decade), actually possible.
It should also demonstrate that when it comes to “low hanging fruit” in terms of public demands, the nation’s healthcare policymakers should take a cue from what has been happening with Covid19 vaccines. Making it simpler, easier, and less-expensive for everyday users of contact lenses to get those lenses is one such example of low hanging fruit.
In Europe it’s easy—in 25 of 28 countries in Europe, one doesn’t have to go to an optometrist and get a prescription, then show or email (or FAX!) that prescription to some other party (or be forced to buy those contact lenses from their optometrist). In those 25 countries, one can just go to a vending machine and get the contact lenses they need (if they don’t want to wait for an online order, that is)!
Europe—where they created a regulatory climate so severe that those impacts were a major factor in Great Britain’s decision to leave the EU—Europe makes it easier for consumers to make a basic choice regarding their health care (a choice, incidentally, that is more friendly to those wishing to buy things in a “contact-free” manner in the era of Covid19).
The US should take a cue from European nations on this. We know Americans already take advantage from the “gray market” that has sprung up in the wake of a more-relaxed European contact lens marketplace (where consumers can legally buy contact lenses from a non-American vendor and have them shipped here to the United States), so there is clearly a consumer demand. There has been, at least as anyone can tell, no negative safety repercussions from such a marketplace—so the justification for a lack of movement by American regulators is scant. And there are the clear consumer benefits from greater competition and a marketplace that doesn’t require customers to venture outside their homes to make these purchases (unless they want to).
To decide to reform this system in response to what is already happening in the marketplace, in an era in which consumers are hungry for these kinds of choices, really is the ultimate in low-hanging fruit when it comes to public policy. Given what the FDA has already shown it can do when it comes to consumer demand and health options, that agency ought to act, and act now.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Regulatory Analysis and Engagement, a new organization dedicated to assessing the impact of regulation on American society.