Stop viewing occupational licensing with rose-colored glasses: it harms consumers


Recently the Des Moines Register published a series of articles that sheds light on the problems caused by unnecessary and irrational occupational licensing laws.  In one recent opinion piece, Darrell Hanson, a former Iowa legislator, describes his first-hand experience with how such schemes harm consumer interests.

He writes:

While in Des Moines for the session, I broke my new eyeglasses. It would be several days until I could get another pair from my optometrist in Manchester, but I had a copy of my prescription and thought it would be simple to have a new pair made elsewhere.

But none of the optical stores I contacted would sell me a replacement pair of glasses unless I also paid for a new exam by their optometrist. (Any pharmacy in the country would have filled a prescription for medication from my physician, but unlike optical prescriptions, medical prescriptions can’t be written by the pharmacists who fill them, so most pharmacists have no incentive to require redundant medical exams.)

With no time to search for an optometrist who would accept my existing prescription, my only choice was to pay for an unnecessary eye exam.

Hanson explains that he tried to pass a law that would combat the scheme by requiring optometrists to honor recent prescription of other optometrists.  But, as is often the case when protectionist regulations face opposition, special interest groups in the optometry field fought against the legislation for years.

This anecdote is more than a tale of how unnecessary licensing inconvenienced one man.  Occupational licensing laws often pay lip service to “public health and safety” while harming the public by increasing the costs of goods and services — and those costs add-up for all of us.