I recently wrote about how a government-enforced monopoly in the medical industry leads to poor customer service, but what would the medical industry look like if it were deregulated? Look to the optometrists.

The history of the availability of eyeglasses to the common man is one of patented innovation. In 1804, the meniscus lens was patented. Patents for innovations to eyeglasses were still being granted in the twentieth century. The first corneal contact lens was patented after World War II, leading to countless papers and several new journals dedicated to the new technology.

Between 1910 and 1997, the number of optometrists in the United States multiplied more than eleven times, versus a doubling of the general population. The real price of high-quality glasses was dropping, making them widely available. Advertising supported competition in selling eyeglasses: a lesson for those who would prohibit it for prescription drugs. In 1963, prices of eyeglasses in American states that restricted their advertising were 25 percent higher than in states that allowed it.

Data series extracted from Statistics Canada’s CANSIM II database show that, between 1985 and 2001, the price of eye care in Canada dropped 23 percent relative to the Consumer Price Index. In 1998, Canadian households’ average expenditure on prescription eyeglasses was $113. In Canada and the United States, innovation and competition quickly brought eyeglasses to everyone.

There's no reason to believe that the services of medical doctors couldn't be as cheap and efficient as the services of optometrists and dentists. The reason they aren't is that doctors maintain artificially high barriers to entry to their profession, in collusion with the government.

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