South Carolina sued over telemedicine eye exam ban

A company that wants to provide online eye examinations is suing South Carolina after the legislature overwhelmingly voted to ban the practice in the state.

Opternative allows customers to get a new prescription for glasses and contacts from home.   File photo

A company that wants to provide online eye examinations is suing South Carolina after the legislature overwhelmingly voted to ban the practice in the state.

The suit, filed in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, accuses lawmakers of siding with traditional storefront businesses to stifle telemedicine that benefits consumers.

Chicago-based Opternative, backed by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice (IJ), litigates on behalf of others to limit the scope of government. It wants the courts to overturn the ban.

"South Carolina’s new law protects the economic interest of one group over what the people of South Carolina want: convenient and affordable vision tests and prescriptions for glasses and contacts,” Pete Horkan, director of government affairs at Opternative, told Palmetto Business Daily. “We’re fighting for our constitutional right to operate, and we’re confident the South Carolina courts will agree with us."

The South Carolina Senate voted 39-3 to override a veto by Gov. Nicki Haley. The House voted 98-1 to do the same.

Many other states do allow eye examinations to be conducted remotely, while South Carolina is supportive of other types of telemedicine. The drive to ban Opternative, and any other company that wants to deliver a similar service, was supported by the South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association.

Following the vote, board president Dr. Michael Campbell said Opternative’s technology as it stands isn’t sufficient to provide accurate prescriptions for patients.

“It’s an estimation, using that type of technology,” Campbell told Blue Sky Innovation, an information service that specializes in new ideas and technologies. “It is a business to them, and that’s the way they’re looking at it. We care about the patient, trying to get those prescriptions right and trying to figure out why those prescriptions change from a health standpoint.”

Opternative allows customers to get a new prescription for glasses and contacts from home. It operates in 39 states and argues the technology allows doctors to provide faster and better service to more people.

“We’re suing the state of South Carolina to protect patients’ right to accessible and affordable eye care services,” CEO and co-founder of Opternative Aaron Dallek said in a post by the Institute for Justice. “Doctors should be able to use Opternative’s innovative telehealth technology to help patients in South Carolina see clearly.”

When vetoing the bill, Gov. Haley wrote, “I am vetoing this bill because it uses health practice mandates to stifle competition for the benefit of a single industry . . . [this law] is putting us on the leading edge of protectionism, not innovation.”

Robert McNamara, IJ senior attorney, said the case represents a simple choice between new technologies that expand access to care and protectionist legislation to preserve the profits of established businesses.

“Patients and their doctors should be in charge of managing their own healthcare decisions, not the South Carolina General Assembly,” McNamara said.

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