Contact Lenses & Private Labels: The Prescription Hustle

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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.”

Aqua Clear Contact Lens Prescription

Aqua Clear Contact Lens Prescription

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

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  • CJ

    Aquaclear = Biofinity (NOT Avaira)

    Aquaclear Toric = Biofinity Toric (NOT Avaira Toric)

  • blueyedblondielw

    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…).

    • http://www.junesjournal.com June Wilson

      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.)

  • juliacurry

    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.