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Court to hear online eye exam case today

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A Richland County court heard arguments today to allow online eye exams in South Carolina.

Chicago-based startup Opternative asked the court to find the state’s ban on such services unconstitutional. Robert McNamara and Joshua Windham, attorneys at the Institute for Justice, argued on Opternative’s behalf.

McNamara said the judge decided to take the case under advisement for the next 20 days.

“The judge will review both sides, and hopefully we will have a decision in a couple of months,” McNamara said.  

Opternative sued the state in 2016, contending that a law passed that year curtails the right of patients and doctors to manage their own care.

Opternative’s technology allows patients to take an eye exam from their computer and receive a prescription for glasses or contacts via email without a visit to an optometrist. Online vision tests perform a refraction, one of several tests that make up a traditional eye exam.

Opternative operates in 39 states but has been banned in South Carolina, Georgia and Indiana.

McNamara said he feels confident the judge will rule in favor of his client. He said constitutional challenges to perceived government overreach are historically upheld in the state.

Then-S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the bill that created the ban, writing that “it uses health practice mandates to stifle competition for the benefit of a single industry,” but the state legislature overrode that veto by significant margins: 39 to 3 in the Senate and 98 to 1 in the House.

Opternative says its technology is not a replacement for a comprehensive eye exam but rather a stopgap measure for people who need prescriptions renewed frequently. Lawmakers and optometrists counter that the technology is potentially dangerous.

The American Optometric Association said online vision tests do not include a comprehensive eye exam and do not take into account a patient’s medical history. The organization also said patients might think online vision tests provide more care than they actually provide.

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