- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina House will decide whether companies can offer prescriptions for glasses and contacts after online eye exams.

The Senate voted 39-3 Wednesday to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill banning the practice. An override in the House would bar prescriptions based solely on a computerized eye test. That chamber passed the bill 100-1 last month.

Chicago-based Opternative launched its online service in South Carolina and dozens of other states nationwide last summer. CEO and founder Aaron Dallek said the company has hundreds of customers in South Carolina.

Opternative offers $40 to $60 prescriptions - depending on whether customers want a single prescription for glasses or contacts, or a prescription for both - within 24 hours for people ages 18 to 45 with a computer and smartphone.

Customers taking the test are asked to take a certain number of steps away from their computer screen, depending on their shoe size, and use the computer like a digital eye chart. A text message sent to a customer’s smartphone allows it to be used as a remote control. Answers to multiple questions, along with medical records, are sent to a state-licensed ophthalmologist contracted by the company. Inconsistencies mean a prescription won’t be written, Dallek said.

“The final check and balance is the doctor,” he told The Associated Press.

Haley opposed the bill as stifling competition.

“Eye care professionals are seeking to block new technologies that expand low-cost access to vision corrective services,” she wrote in her veto message. “This is the wrong message to send to the business community.”

Sponsoring Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said in-office eye exams by an optometrist can catch problems, including tumors, that an online, self-assessment test can’t. He also said it makes no sense to allow an out-of-state online company to do something licensed optometrists can’t.

The governor advocates “competition at the expense of quality health care,” said Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, a co-sponsor.

At least two other states have passed laws specifically banning the online service. Several other states have regulations that don’t allow the practice.

Opponents include the American Optometric Association, which contends its doctors regularly see patients in what are supposed to be routine exams and instead find serious issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and glaucoma.

“Confusing or potentially misleading alternatives to seeing an eye doctor for eye care provides a false sense of security and results in a lack of proper diagnosis, which threatens patients’ sight and general health,” said the association’s spokeswoman, Susan Thomas.

Dallek said his company recognizes the service is not for everyone, which is why it asks that customers be no older than 45 and recommends customers get a full eye health exam every two years.

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