Vistakon, a division of Johnson & Johnson, has agreed to sell its contact lenses to alternate suppliers to settle federal antitrust litigation, but is that enough for some suppliers? 1-800 Contacts claims that since signing the preliminary settlement agreement, Johnson & Johnson has made its products more difficult for 1-800 Contacts to obtain.
Attorneys General from 32 states charged that Vistakon and the other defendants—CIBA Vision, Bausch & Lomb, the AOA, other optometric groups and O.D.s—conspired to restrict competition from alternative suppliers such as mail-order houses, inflating consumer prices for replacement contact lenses.
In the proposed settlement that received preliminary court approval in May, Vistakon agreed to sell its Acuvue brand lenses to alternative distributors as long as they agreed to sell lenses only to consumers with valid prescriptions, comply with all federal and state contact lens laws, and not sell Vistakon’s diagnostic lenses.
“We intend to abide by the letter and spirit of that agreement once it is approved,” says Vistakon spokesman Marc Monseau. “And we’re looking forward to that.” Once the settlement is final, Vistakon’s new sales policy will be to sell to alternate suppliers who comply with the terms of the settlement, he adds.
As Vistakon awaits final court approval of the settlement, it meanwhile has filed suit to stop 1-800 Contacts from generating “false and misleading advertising regarding Vistakon’s products,” says Mr. Monseau.
1-800 Contacts says it has begun testing a new program in which it arranges for customers to be fit with different brands of contact lenses—by different providers. “Our tests indicate that our customers are very receptive to an offer from us to try both a new product and a new eye-care provider,” says company CEO Jonathan Coon. “A more active role in the product/provider decision should help us address the policies of the few remaining manufacturers that seek to eliminate our form of competition by selling their brands exclusively to eye doctors.”
Ronald Snyder, O.D., of Boca Raton, Fla., remains wary of 1-800 Contacts’ motives. “I think what they intend to do is switch the patient when they call and ask for a specific product, to a product that’s more expensive and more readily available to them,” he says.
Dr. Snyder is co-chairman of Visus LLC, which offers its own private-label disposable lenses, and was one of the individual defendants in the antitrust suit. His advice for practitioners: “I would warn the patient at the time of the fitting that, ‘I’ve selected this particular lens for your eyes based upon the measurements that I’ve taken today. When you need replacement lenses, I want you to call my office. But under no circumstances are you to ever change the lens type without my knowledge.’ I would start educating each and every patient that walks into an optometric practice.”