Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

States Sue Eye-Care Industry Alleges Overcharging on Soft Contact Lenses

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

States Sue Eye-Care Industry Alleges Overcharging on Soft Contact Lenses

Article excerpt

Contact lens makers and optometrists are cheating consumers out of millions of dollars by keeping them from ordering replacement lenses from cheaper sources, attorneys general in Missouri, Illinois and 20 other states charged Thursday in a lawsuit.

The suit names Johnson & Johnson Vision Products Inc., Bausch & Lomb Inc. and CIBA Vision Corp. as well as eight optometrists and their trade organizations as defendants. New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco filed the suit Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn.

The manufacturers and the trade groups, including the St. Louis-based American Optometric Association, deny any wrongdoing. They said the suit is similar to earlier suits filed in Florida, Tennessee, Texas and California. The Tennessee and Texas suits have been dismissed, but the Florida suit is pending. Lens makers and eye-care professionals may have overcharged consumers by $600 million between 1989 and 1994, said Wes Goforth, a spokesman for Vacco. New York is acting as the lead for the 22 states in the lawsuit, which seeks compensation for an estimated 25 million consumers, Goforth said. The optometrists are accused of pressuring manufacturers to limit consumer access to soft contact lens prescriptions, which are necessary in order for consumers to purchase from lower-priced outlets such as mail order companies and pharmacies. The lawsuit also charges that the optometrists tried to limit the supply of contact soft lenses to the cheaper, alternative market. "Consumers want and deserve convenience and the lowest prices available for replacement lenses," Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said. He said an eye-care professional should fit the lenses first, "but consumers should be able to buy replacement lenses wherever they want. It is unfair for optometrists and manufacturers to agree among themselves to deprive consumers of this choice." The American Optometric Association said it believes the suit filed Thursday and others like it "are not well founded and are based on a serious misinterpretation of the facts. …

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