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Critics: Hubble contact lenses may cause serious eye problems

The online brand Hubble set itself up to disrupt the contact lens industry by selling a month's worth of daily lenses for $39 in a subscription format. Eye care professionals warn users that the company's business model could be dangerous:

  • Hubble's direct-to-consumer model doesn't involve optometrists or ophthalmologists, bypassing the fittings advisable for people seeking contact lenses
  • Hubble's model doesn't properly vet prescriptions
  • Hubble switches patients from their prescribed lens brands to Hubble's lenses, which may harm the patient
  • Hubble's lenses are made with a material some critics consider outdated and which might not fit properly

There are plenty of happy Hubble consumers, but there are also reports of Hubble customers developing eye problems. When a 31-year-old Dallas man developed a corneal ulcer, his ophthalmologist asked about his lenses. When he said he wore Hubble lenses, she said, "Oh, that's it. You're not the first."

One problem is that, unlike a generic version of a brand-name product, Hubble's contact lenses may not be identical to the brand your doctor prescribes. But Hubble, like some other online sellers, doesn't require patients to list the brand of lenses prescribed.

Hubble's business model is essentially to switch patients from brand-name products to less expensive Hubble products by using what's called "passive prescription verification." This is something the Federal Trade Commission has allowed since the early 2000s, when online contact lens sellers encountered eye doctors who preferred not to work with them. In a passive verification, the seller attempts to verify a prescription via faxes and voice mails but, if the doctor doesn't respond within eight business hours, the prescription is considered valid and the order can be filled.

The American Optometric Association and other industry groups complain that Hubble's passive verification efforts are poor. The messages they leave can be hard to understand and may arrive at odd hours. They sometimes refer to patients the doctor has never seen. And, a 2017 news report found that Hubble sold lenses to some people who had faked their prescriptions and made up doctors' names.

Earlier this year, the FTC announced it plans to rein in the use of passive verification. Under proposed new regulations, sellers could not use passive verification if they knew or should have known that the prescription was for a different brand or manufacturer. It calls changing the brand or manufacturer "illegal substitution."

Hubble insists that its lenses are safe. However, the fact that Hubble's lenses aren't identical to the prescribed brands could be problematic for some users and cause costly health issues.

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