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States settle lawsuit over inflated contact lens prices

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

Alaska, along with 30 other states, has settled an antitrust case against contact lens maker Bausch & Lomb, one of three companies and the American Optometric Association sued for allegedly colluding to restrict access to lenses and for inflating prices.

Of the $17.5 million proposed settlement, at least $9.5 million will go toward rebates for eye exams and future purchases of Bausch & Lomb lenses. The rest of the settlement will be used for an advertising campaign to inform customers how to receive the rebates, and other court-approved uses.

Anyone who purchased certain contact lenses from the three companies since Jan. 1, 1988, is eligible for a $120 rebate package, according to the state attorney general's office.

It's hard to say how much money will come to Alaska, said Julia Coster, the Alaska assistant attorney general who handled the case. The settlement Alaskans get depends on the number of people who apply for the refund package, Coster said.

Dr. Jill Geering said contact sales account for about 15 percent of her Juneau optometric practice, but she didn't know how many patients that meant. She said some people switch between glasses and contacts, making an estimate difficult.

Contacts vary in cost from about $25 for a box of six up to $120 for a box of four, depending on the complexity of a person's prescription, Geering said. The four brands mentioned in the suit, Acuvue, SeeQuence, Focus and NuVues, are all disposable soft contacts that can be worn from one day to two weeks, she said.

The states brought a class-action lawsuit in 1996 against Bausch & Lomb, Johnson & Johnson Vision Products, also known as Vistakon, CIBA Vision and the American Optometric Association for allegedly inflating the price of replacement contact lenses after the companies struck a deal with some optometrists and the AOA. That agreement made replacement lenses available only through eye-care professionals.

Customers found it difficult to get the lenses through other means, including pharmacists, mail or phone orders, or the Internet, according to the attorney general's office.

Nationally, an estimated 34 million pairs of contacts are sold annually, 42 percent of them disposable, according to the Contact Lens Council Web site. The council lists seven sponsoring manufacturers, including the three that were sued.

CIBA settled its case in March 1997 for a $5 million cash payment and a $35 rebate package, Coster said. The case against Johnson & Johnson and the AOA is scheduled to go to trail March 19 in Jacksonville, Fla.

For information or to register for the rebate package, call (888) 707-5880 toll-free or check for the rebate Web site through Hot Links at juneauempire.com.

Mike Hinman can be reached at mhinman@juneauempire.com.



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