State joins contact lens antitrust suit 3 manufacturers accused of pricing conspiracy

December 20, 1996|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Maryland and 21 other states have filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court against three major contact lens manufacturers, who allegedly conspired to keep consumers from purchasing contact lenses from discount retailers, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said yesterday.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that Vistakon (a Johnson & Johnson Inc. company), Bausch & Lomb Inc., CIBA Vision Corp. and various optometrists through their professional associations conspired to limit consumer access to discount lenses by controlling access to the prescriptions needed to obtain the lenses.

The suit charges that the defendants tried to stop the sale of contact lenses to mail-order companies, pharmacies, buying clubs, department stores, mass merchandise outlets and other alternative channels of distribution. It also alleges that manufacturers stopped selling to mail-order companies, pharmacies and other similar outlets to keep prices high, Curran said.

Claiming that the conspiracy began when disposable contact lenses were introduced, the suit accuses manufacturers and optometrists of making a concerted effort to keep lenses from being sold by anyone but licensed eye care practitioners.

With an estimated 200,000 Marylanders who wear contact lenses, the conspiracy has cost people millions of dollars, Curran said.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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