Contact Lenses & Private Labels: The Prescription Hustle
I got hustled by an eye doctor last year. Well, almost hustled.
It’s Called Brand-Switching
The hustle is to write a contact lens prescription for private label brands, a practice known as “brand-switching.”
I’ve worn Acuvue lenses for about ten years and happily order them online at AC Lens (www.aclens.com). Naturally I’m required to submit an updated prescription to AC Lens each year, so this is what brought me to Wrigley Eye Associates to make an appointment with Dr. Wrigley (yes, Wrigley’s like the gum, and her husband is related to the inventor of the gum). When one of her associates suggested that I try a new brand that will help my eyes “breath” better, I said sure. I’m all for eyes that breath better! I was asked to come back for three follow-up visits, and each time I was seen by a different doctor and a new prescription was written for me during each follow-up visit.
My Aquaclear Prescription
Then, after those follow-ups, I finally had an appointment with Dr. Wrigley herself and to my bewilderment ended with the same prescription I had before contacting Wrigley Eyes Associates, with one glaring exception. Boldly written on top of the prescription it said, “Aquaclear.”
Seemed harmless enough, right? After all, this is the brand that would help my eyes breath better!
The problem is that AC Lens, where I prefer to purchase my lens, did not sell the brand name “Aquaclear.” After doing some research, I found out that Aquaclear is really Avaira® 100 contact lenses which AC Lens does sell, but because my prescription had the word “Aquaclear,” AC Lens wouldn’t sell it to me.
What is Aquaclear?
You see, Avaira® contact lenses are manufactured by CooperVision and sold under different private label brands such as Aquaclear 100 and Aquatech Plus for large eye care practices and optical chains. In general, private label brands must be purchased directly from your optician or optometrist.
So what’s a girl to do with a prescription she can’t fulfill?
Dr. Wrigley’s office had the answer. Order my lenses from them! In fact, their receptionist asked me repeatedly why I won’t order my lenses from them, even though I explained how I’d be paying more. After much going back and forth, I was finally given a prescription with the brand name Avaira which could be purchased anywhere. Call me silly but I’m stuck like glue to the great savings & convenience I get with AC Lens.
The Hustle in a Nutshell – From A to Z
Here’s the eye clinic’s whole hustle, intended or not:
- Issue patient a contact lens prescription with a private label name
That is, a prescription is issued that can only be fulfilled in their office, nowhere else.
- Apply patient’s insurance towards the purchase of contact lens without permission
My eye insurance is provided by Vision Service Plan (VSP) which covers one eye exam each year in full. I pay nothing. I had to contact VSP because Dr. Wrigley’s office insisted I make a payment after my initial eye exam. When I got VSP involved, Dr. Wrigley’s office explained to VSP that they applied half of my insurance coverage towards lenses because they assumed I’d want to order my lenses from them. VSP made them refund my money.
- Refuse to fax a copy of the prescription to the patient
Hey, the prescription may get smeared in the transmission, they said. We can’t mail it either, they said. You must pick it up in person, they also insisted. Sounded like “game” to me since so many other eye places happily fax eye prescriptions all the time. I suspect this was just one more measure to “inconvenience” people so that they break down and order lenses from their office, unless they just are truly bad with customer service.
- Talk patient into trying the new private label brand
Maybe this wasn’t part of the hustle, but the Avaira lenses were horrible! I gave them a fair shot and wore them one too many months and my eyes were often crusty when I woke up in the morning. And overall they very uncomfortable. Others online have complained of similar experiences as I had with these lenses. Although I did read a few reviews where people had glowing things to say about Avaira. I do not. And I should have changed back to my beloved Acuvue brand much sooner than I did. Makes me wonder if the real reason Avaira–excuse me, AquaClear 100–was suggested is because this eye place sold them and apparently made a nice profit from it. Well, then again, how much profit can a eye place make from selling lenses? Probably not a lot at all, so why be difficult to a patient like me who made it clear she’d simply prefer to order her contact lenses online?
Working 9-5 to Earn a Living
I’m clear that businesses are in business to make a profit, including eye doctors. But when an eye clinic seems more interested in making a bit extra pocket change (or whatever the reason is there was so much resistance to my request), then something doesn’t seem right. And from what I understand, most eye doctors who sell private labels are careful to also write the equivalent name brand right on the prescription, and I’m even told that contact lens laws require this. After ending up with the same prescription three follow-up visits later (and my prescription significantly changing until I finally saw Dr. Wrigley), it just didn’t seem like folk there knew what they were doing.
Non-Contact Lens Wearing Colleagues
To be fair, I have a coworker who went to Wrigley Eye Associates and loved it; he even bragged that his glasses (purchased there) are super expensive which he contends is proof that they are the “best” quality. But he doesn’t wear contact lens. So it’s really not a good experience comparison. And another coworker of mine had a mediocre experience there (not bad nor good), but she doesn’t wear contact lens either.
I Hit the Road, Jack. No more, no more.
Needless to say, I will not be returning to this clinic, but I’m actually glad for the experience so that I can help other contact lens wears be aware of this hustle.
Pearl, a Franchise Eye Clinic, Wows Me
My last eye exam was at Pearl Vision and what a difference!
I was told upfront that I do not need to schedule or pay for both an eye glass and contact lens exam because only one exam is needed for both since the contact lens prescription is based on the eye glass prescription. (I usually expect to pay a fee for both.)
I had absolutely no issues getting my final prescription faxed to my job (my preference since my job routes incoming faxes to my inbox as a PDF attachment, which allows me to save an electronic copy of my prescription very easily).
The doctor also let me try out two kinds of lenses: Acuvue Advanced and also Acuvue Astigmatism. I chose the latter (more expensive) option because I loved the crystal clear vision during the night and overall precision of vision that I hadn’t really experienced before. Plus they are comfortable and my eyes feel hydrated, even after keeping them in for a week.
The doctor saw me immediately too, even though I arrived ten minutes early, and she answered all of my questions and gave me straight answers. She was a lot of fun to boot.
Buh-Bye, Crusty Eyes
So no more crusty eyes for me! And eventually I plan to get laser surgery so that I won’t have to wear contact lens or glasses at all. The moral of this blog post is to beware of the “brand switching” hustle. Pass it on!
Private Label Comparison Table
While Googling around, I came across this chart that shows the brand name equivalent of the private label names your eye doctor may have prescribed. I’m posting it here in case someone finds themselves experiencing the same hustle, where you have a contact lens prescription that you can’t seem to get fulfilled by major eye brand carriers like AC Lens.
|Private label brand product||Branded equivalent|
|Clear choice 1 day||Biomedics 1 day|
|Clear Choice Premium 1 day||PROCLEAR 1 day|
|Clear choice 14 day||Biomedics XC|
|Clear Choice Premium Plus 14 day||AVAIRA|
|Clear Choice Premium Plus 14 day toric||AVAIRA toric|
|Clear Choice monthly||Biomedics evolution|
|Clear Choice Premium PLUS monthly||BIOFINITY|
|Clear Choice Premium PLUS monthly toric||BIOFINITY toric|
|Ascend monthly||Biomedics 55|
|Ascend Premier monthly||BIOFINITY|
|Acend 1 day||Biomedics 1 day|
|Acend 1 day toric||Biomedics 1 day toric|
|Acend 1 day comfort||PROCLEAR 1 day|
|Specsavers easyvision clarision||Biomedics 1 day|
|Specsavers easyvision clarision toric||Biomedics 1 day toric|
|Specsavers easyvision vusion daily||Proclear 1 day|
|Specsavers easyvision vusion monthly||Proclear compatibles|
|Specsavers easyvision opteyes monthly||Biofinity|
|Specsavers easyvision opteyes monthly toric||Biofinity Toric|
|Specsavers easyvision umere SiHy Daily||Sauflon 1-Day Clariti|
|Speacsavers easyvision opsys||DAILIES All Day Comfort|
|Specsavers easyvision vitrea||DAILIES AquaComfort Plus|
|ProView +PLUS Daily Disposable||Proclear 1 day|
|ProView Daily Disposable||Biomedics 1 day|
|ProView Toric Daily Disposable||Biomedics 1 day toric|
|ProBalance Monthly Flexible Wear||Biofinity|
|ProBalance Toric Monthly Flexible Wear||Biofinity toric|
|ProActive Premium Fortnightly Daily Care||Avaira|
|ProActive Premium Toric Fortnightly Daily Care||Avaira toric|
[…] 40 and will definitely get annual mammograms. (Along with an annual pap smear, dental checkup and eye exam.) Fortunately, my health insurance covers these exams. For persons without insurance, many […]
Aquaclear = Biofinity (NOT Avaira)
Aquaclear Toric = Biofinity Toric (NOT Avaira Toric)
Yes, there are private labels for contact lenses, most eye care providers will allow you to order the generic (similar to brand vs. generic pharmaceutical prescriptions) if you simply request it. It’s unfortunate that you feel that you “almost” got hustled from your eye care provider. However, to clarify, you stated that Avaira is the same as Aquaclear, which is it not. These are two different lenses, different modalities, different modulus, different fit, different prescriptions. That’s like saying, any antibiotic is comparable with another. True some can be used interchangeably, but certainly not all. One of the branded labels for Avaira is “Aquaclear 100” which is not the same as “Aquaclear.” Both are branded lenses but they are not the same, and they are not fit the same.
Further, when writing a prescription, eye doctors do no have to put both private label and “public” brand. However, I agree with you that holding your prescription hostage is no way to treat a patient. I have no idea why they would behave that way. Speaking as someone who has been in the industry for years, both commercial/chain and private practice optometry I can tell you doctors make next to nothing off of the sale of soft contact lenses. Online vendors and easy-to-order resources like 1800CONTACTS force optometrists to drop prices of contacts so low that generally the profit in the contact lens fitting fee rather than the sale of contacts. The practice I currently work at, makes $4 per box sold. Essentially this means that the practice loses money for that time to pay the optician to sell them to you. They only sell them to keep patients happy and make it convenient for those who like to purchase them at the time of the exam.
I’m glad you had a better experience at your subsequent vision exam. Your eye care professional, regardless of where you go, should give you contact lens options (trying different brands) to find the best vision and comfort for you. However, if they are merely determining your CL prescription based on your glasses prescription they are doing you a huge disservice. It is a separate prescription and has many more variables. Legally it should have it’s own fee as it is it’s own evaluation. That being said, as a bargain shopper, I’m glad you got a good deal, but this is no “hustle” the contact lens exam/eval/fitting is real and should be. It allows the doctor to check not only the prescription but if the curve of the lens matches your eye, if the diameter is right for you and to make sure your eye is “breathing” properly. Contact lenses if not properly fit and taken care of can cause a slew of ocular health problems. My guess is that you were not charged for a contact lens exam because the large corporation wants to keep the exam price cheap to get customers to and is willing to “eat the cost,” because they are part of a larger network, Luxottica which is essentially the Wal-Mart of eye care (large corporation, cheap prices…).
Thanks for your comments. Above is a picture of the actual prescription I received. And “Aqua Clear” is what the eye doctor wrote on it, not Aquaclear 100. She later changed it to Avaira. Yes, I realize eye clinics don’t make much profit from selling content lens (as stated in the blog post above), which merely added to the puzzlement of why something as simple as a routine annual eye exam turned into such an ordeal…a 4-week ordeal to be exact, if I count the one-week of back and forth over my prescription. But that was five or more years ago at this point. Thankfully, I’ve not had an experience like that since! (Of course, I never went back to Dr. Wrigley’s.)
Thank you! I am glad I found this post and I appreciate benefiting from your research. I have felt for several years that my optometrist was upselling me and this is yet another new practice of his office that I am not happy about. It confirms my decision to look for an ophthalmologist to do my exams in future, so I don’t have to worry about the profit motive any more.
Not all optometrists have a profit motive in selling contact lenses or eyewear whatsoever. As I stated earlier, I charge fees for services. I ‘sell’ no products of any sort. You have to do what makes you feel comfortable regardless. I would do the same.
I had a similar issue. I was told by a new optometrist that my astigmatism had worsened so that I could no longer use Acuvue Oasys, which only manufactures up to a certain degree of astigmatism. He prescribed Proclear, which is also made by Cooper Vision. The problem is that the lenses were thicker so they were not as comfortable and they would rotate and stay rotated so that I had blurry vision. When I saw a different optometrist, I told her the situation and she said I had irritation inside my eyelids that was causing my lenses to stay rotated (any optometrists out there reading, is this a real phenomenon?). She also confirmed that Acuvue Oasys did not manufacture lenses for my prescription. About five years later, I go back to my old optometrist who lives near my old workplace, and he prescribes Acuvue Oasys. Since I did not buy lenses from the other optometrists, either Acuvue Oasys changed what they manufacture, or Cooper Vision manages to provide incentives to optometrists for prescribing their lenses. Seriously, maybe optometrists can send them a copy of the prescription that has their brand on it and receive some sort of incentive that does not break rules explicitly. It makes me really frustrated–I mean, technically no biggie since I simply wore my glasses more in the intervening years, but it is the abuse of power that makes me angry
Yes, there is a condition where the inner lining of the upper lids can cause lenses to both rotate more than expected and to get ‘dirty’ quicker than normal. Google for GPC. I couldn’t say obviously if that was the issue with you. Some patients can tolerate less astigmatism correction in their contacts than you would suspect to be ideal. Switching them to a lens that makes more sense ‘on paper’ may NOT be actually the best for them, all things considered. Experience will tell out there. I’ve never heard of a practitioner receiving any sort of incentive for prescribing any brand of lenses, BTW. Most will prescribe what works well for them, given their past experiences. Sometimes you have to get outside the box to do the best for your patients.
This is still happening in 2017! I have seen my eye care doctor for over 10 years he is great, however the same location has a lens center. I order my contacts from an online vendor that just sold me a cheaper private label what they called passively without doctors approval then when i asked to re order I was toldl my doctor doesn’t provide this contact brand. I don’t know if it is doctor or retailer but the fact that there is so much behind scenes negotiating makes me wonder if everyone is focused on my eye care or dolor signs. I suspect my doctor office isn’t trying to hustle and the retailer is doing something slick by marketing me their cheaper lens but trying to get me to go a target or whichever eye center that they prefer to deal with because it fiscally advantageous. Healthcare being used this way is sickening abuse of patients who are typically at disadvantage because we might not be as educated and trust that X is best product for our eyes. Doctors seemed to being manipulated by manufactures as well.
I also am a practitioner. I write prescriptions and do not sell contact lenses nor glasses. You could buy a hundred pair and my income would not change one bit. I’m fine with my patients buying them wherever they wish, which is their right. And I also abhor the practice of ‘private label’ lenses. It’s like saying ‘I’m prescribing Dr. Bill’s brand contacts and you can only buy them from Dr. Bill’, thus a captive patient. Like unfortunately too many things, it’s more about the money than the patient. I would have no issue with a patient asking me to write an Rx that’s easily filled anyplace they want to, including online, which I would have done anyway. I don’t prescribe private label lenses. Some practitioners may not be as flexible or I would say reasonable and it’s a little difficult figuring that out up front. “Do you prescribe contact lenses I can buy wherever I want to?” might be a start.
@drdeputy:disqus, thanks for weighing in. I am reminded that I should write a sequel to this post, as it was published several years ago. :)
By the way, I think it’s perfectly fine for eye doctor’s and eye places to sell contact lens and eye glasses. After all, it is a matter of convenience for many of their customers. I just think they should not tell a patient they can “only” order from them or try to make it impossible for the patient to buy from anywhere else. That is pushy.
My husband got a hi-tech digital exam at Lens Crafters, so we have been going there in recent years, and we like the optometrist and the office staff. Receiving great customer service by professionals who genuinely care about my family is something I do not take for granted these days!