Many B.C. optometrists appear to be breaking provincial regulations by charging an extra fee for a minor facial measurement that's supposed to be included in eye exams, CBC News has learned.
The measurement of pupil distance is necessary so that patients' eyes and the lenses in their glasses are lined up properly.
Provincial government regulations were changed in 2010 to ensure that the pupil-distance (PD) measurement is included in every prescription.
B.C.'s Health Professions Act states that, "In a prescription for corrective eyeglasses ... [optometrists] ... must set out the ... inter-pupillary distance as measured at the time of the eye-health examination."
But many optometrists charge an extra $15 to $50 to provide the PD.
One intention of the provincial regulation is to help open competition in the eyeglass and contact lens industry and enable people to buy corrective lenses online.
But that's not what happened for Connie Lundrigan, of Tsawwassen, B.C., who wanted to save money by purchasing her glasses on the internet.
When Lundrigan got an eye exam at a local IRIS Optical outlet, she found that there was no pupil-distance measurement included in her prescription.
"There's no PD anywhere," Lundrigan told CBC News.
When Lundrigan asked for the missing measurement, she was told it would cost an extra $50, on top of the $120 she'd already paid for the exam.
She said she felt cheated and frustrated.
"I don't think it's the right thing to do," Lundrigan said. "People should have a choice as to where they go and buy their eyeglasses."
Her husband, Rick Morgan, was also angry.
"They're trying to do it one customer at a time, on a public that really doesn't know any better," Morgan said.
IRIS Optical eventually refunded Lundrigan's eye exam costs and she took her business elsewhere.
Extra fee also charged elsewhere
But a CBC News investigation found that an IRIS outlet in Vancouver also quoted a $50 charge for the PD measurement and a PearleVision outlet in Vancouver would charge $15 for the PD.
IRIS Optical told CBC News in a statement that the PD charge is legitimate.
"IRIS considers the PD measurement part of the dispensing process, not the eye exam," the statement said.
The company said it identifies the PD measurement as a separate process for which a fee is charged
IRIS has its customers fill out and sign a health questionnaire that includes an agreement to the $50 surcharge.
The company also told CBC News that it's revising its pre-exam questionnaire and waiver so that the PD fee, "is clearer for customers."