Extra charge for B.C. eye exams 'unacceptable'
'Troubling' that extra fee charged for basic prescription information, says health minister
B.C.’s health minister says it’s unacceptable for optometrists in the province to be charging extra for providing basic eye exam information that’s supposed to be included in all eyeglass prescriptions.
Minister Mike de Jong was responding to a report Wednesday from a CBC News investigation that found many optometrists were charging between $15 and $50 to provide a measurement called PD, or pupillary distance.
The PD, which takes seconds to measure, is crucial to the proper alignment between a customer’s pupils and their eyeglass lenses.
In an effort seen as opening up the eyeglass market to online competition, B.C.’s Health Professions Act was amended in 2010 to stipulate that the PD was to be included in every prescription.
De Jong said the rules are not there to be broken.
"They're there for a reason, they're there to be followed and it's troubling to learn that there may be wider spread disregard for those regulations than that's acceptable," de Jong told CBC News.
De Jong said he would investigate and take action if necessary.
"If you choose to purposely ignore the rules, there will be sanctions and there will be consequences."
The PD is required for glasses, but not for contacts. Also, without the PD measurement, glasses cannot be ordered online, where prices can be lower than in stores.
The extra charge might sound unreasonable, but it isn’t necessarily, according to Dr. Robin Simpson, head of the College of Optometrists of B.C., which regulates the profession.
"If a patient wants to pay one price for an exam with the PD and another price for an exam without the PD, they have the right to do it," Simpson said.
The College of Optometrists’ policies enable its members to charge for the PD under specific circumstances.
"The cost of PD measurement must be included in the eye examination fee rather than charged as a separate item," the policy states. But it adds, "Unless the patient is advised and agrees otherwise."
At least one company operating in B.C. includes a clause at the bottom of its pre-exam questionnaire that must be signed by customers and points out a $50 charge for the PD.
Simpson agrees the college might have to adjust its policy.
"We've interpreted the amendment. Perhaps we can amend the amendment," he said.
But that might not be necessary. CBC News has found that in addtion to the exception cited above, the college's policy also says the PD should be provided free.
"If, for any reason, the PD measurement was not obtained at the time of an eye exam … on or after May 1, 2010 ... (an optometrist) must offer to measure the PD ... free of charge," the directive says.
If an optometrist refuses to comply, consumers can file a complaint with the college.
With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin