In the same way web-based services like Uber and Airbnb have offered cheaper and more convenient alternatives to taxis and hotels, startups like Opernative challenge a long standing industry that is wary of competition.
Opernative offers eye exams you can take on your computer or smartphone. For a $40 fee, you can get an ophthalmologist-approved prescription for glasses or contacts without ever setting foot in a doctor’s office. The technology is currently available in 29 states, though some are challenging its legality.
Some optometrists would prefer that you get your spectacles prescribed the old fashioned way. That is, by paying them a visit (and money). In fact, some of them are pushing for laws to ban online eye exams from operating.
A bill in Georgia designed to regulate the “sale and dispensing of spectacles” has passed votes in the House and Senate, and now awaits the governor’s signature or veto. The regulation’s vocal support has come primarily from representatives of the traditional eye care industry, such as the American Optometric Association.
Much like pushback against new ridesharing services from the taxi industry or opposition from bakeries in some states to selling home-baked goods, industry insiders often try to frame the issue as a matter of quality or safety, even when there is little evidence that the competitor offers lesser product or service. In fact, a clinical trial showed that Opernative’s eye exam was as accurate as a traditional in-person exam.
IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes summed up how efforts like these have little to do with serious health and safety concerns and are more an example of industry protectionism:
“The Constitution doesn’t allow the government to restrict our liberty just to make politically connected industry groups better off. But judges too often allow it to happen by pretending that a protectionist law—such as blocking the new tele-optometry technology—is designed to help the public, rather than protect the wallets of an industry cartel. Until courts are firmly committed to defending our economic liberty, we can expect to see industry cartels exploiting consumers and suppressing innovation.”