Online eye exam company sues South Carolina over ban

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Today, Opternative announced it will sue the state.

The lawsuit notes that Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the law, and said that "it uses health practice mandates to stifle competition for the benefit of a single industry", but the legislature overrode her. Opternative also says that SC lawmakers passed a separate law this year that allows telemedicine services in general to operate - but explicitly prohibits ophthalmologists from writing prescriptions for online services such as Opternative.

It's the latest in an ongoing battle between Opternative and the optometric industry. Opternative is filing the lawsuit alongside the Institute of Justice in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas.

Opternative is suing the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which reports to Haley. "Doctors should be able to use Opternative's innovative telehealth technology to help patients in SC see clearly". Optometrists and optometry associations have lobbied government officials about their concerns with technology like Opternative, and the American Optometric Association says there are "severe pitfalls in separating refractive tests from annual comprehensive eye exams performed in-person by an eye care professional".

SC lawmakers and optometrists believe the technology is potentially unsafe. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the measure but legislators overrode it.

Critics countered by accusing Haley of putting competition above quality health care.

The lawsuit includes Haley's entire veto message, which accused eye care professionals of wanting to "block new technologies that expand low-priced access to vision corrective services".

But in May, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to override the Governor's veto.

South Carolina, Georgia and IN are the three states that have banned Opternative's technology.

"They have not passed a law to protect people from any actual threat to public health or safety", Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, told BuzzFeed News. "Patients and their doctors should be in charge of managing their own healthcare decisions, not the South Carolina General Assembly". Inconsistencies mean a prescription won't be written, Opternative co-founder Aaron Dallek has said. The company argues that the law violates the state's constitution because it deprives Opternative "of its constitutional right to pursue an honest living", and exclusively exists to reduce "access to online eye care in SC in order to prop up professional optometrists' outdated business model".

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