COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - How would you like the opportunity to get an eye exam online? In South Carolina, you can't legally do that, but one company is fighting that state law.
The company Opternative offers exams and fittings for corrective lenses with one over-the-internet refractive test, using what's known as telemedicine; but since the statute passed in 2016 makes that illegal in South Carolina, they've stopped business in the Palmetto State.
Opternative's attorneys say it's an unfair and even unconstitutional law. Those on the side supporting the law say it's bad for public health for patients to resort to internet exams.
WIS was in the Richland County courtroom to hear both sides of arguments.
Opternative is suing the state. On Wednesday, attorneys asked a judge to declare the state law unconstitutional. That could be based on whether the judge believes the law was passed to protect public health or protect physicians' profits.
"This is economic protectionism for its own sake," Attorney Robert McNamara with the Institute fro Justice said. "And so they want people to come into their shops so they can sell them expensive glasses frames." McNamara is one representing Opternative.
"If somebody doesn't see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist whose standard of care requires them to perform other tests, they may not be diagnosed with glaucoma, with diabetes, with hypertension, with a whole host of things," Attorney Kirby Shealy said. He speaks for the South Carolina Optometric Association.
McNamara claims the state law preventing online eye exams was enacted simply to protect the physical brick and mortar offices' business. But SCOPA says it's not about that, and another local ophthalmologist agrees. Dr. Kelly Hynes spoke to WIS on her thoughts. She says she's not concerned for her business, that "there are enough eyes to go around."
"There are many eye conditions that you may have, without even knowing that you have them," Hynes says.
McNamara says Opternative is not a replacement to comprehensive tests, just a convenience for patients.
"Comprehensive eye exams are absolutely important. But no ophthalmologist thinks you need a comprehensive eye exam every single year. But in South Carolina, your eyeglasses prescription expires after every single year," he says.
But Hynes disagrees.
"It's giving us a false sense of security, if we get a pair of glasses that work and think, our eyes are fine," she says.
The judge is allowing attorneys 20 days to file arguments before she makes her decision.
An online search shows Opternative's price for a contact eye test and glasses together, for $60. Prices at brick-and-mortar stores can vary. Hynes said that her practice at 20!20 Vision in Five Points takes most vision insurance with a co-pay from $0-25. Out of pocket, the exam price is about $139.