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(SACRAMENTO) –Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced the partial settlement of antitrust complaints against three major contact lens manufacturers that will provide rebates and other product benefits to Californians who bought replacement disposable contact lenses from any of these three companies in the last 12 years.
The proposed settlement was reached with one of the defendants, CIBA Vision. U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Schlesinger of Jacksonville, Florida, approved California's motion to provide consumers with notice of the pending lawsuits and the terms of the settlement with CIBA Vision.
The antitrust lawsuits brought by California, 31 other state attorneys general, and a national consumer class are still pending against the American Optometric Association, Johnson & Johnson Vision Products, Inc. ("Vistakon"), Bausch & Lomb ("B&L") and individual optometrists for restricting competition in violation of antitrust laws.
"An estimated one in ten Americans wear contact lenses," Lockyer said. "Under the proposed settlement, Californians who bought disposable contact lenses from any of these three manufacturers since 1988 will be eligible for up to $45 in cash rebates and product coupons. While the settlement involves only CIBA Vision, the consumer benefits will be available to past purchasers of replacement contact lenses from any of the three contact lens makers."
The proposed settlement with CIBA includes: a $35.00 cash rebate directly to consumers on the future purchase of certain CIBA replacement lenses, a package of discount coupons for consumers to use in purchasing CIBA Vision products and a $5 million payment. The settlement also would require CIBA to continue for five years its now current practice of selling replacement contact lenses directly to pharmacies and mail order firms for resale to consumers. The federal court is scheduled to consider formal approval of the proposed settlement on February 27, 2001 at 9:30 a.m.
Consumers may register for the benefits package and obtain additional information on the rebate process by calling toll-free 1-888-811-0385 or through the Internet at http://www.contactlenssettlement.com. Information also is available from these same sources on how to file objections or opt out of the settlement. The deadline for registering for benefits, filing objections or opting out is January 31, 2001.
Lens wearers who bought replacement disposable contact lenses from Vistakon, B&L and CIBA – at any time since January 1, 1988 – are eligible for the rebate and benefits package after final court approval of the settlement. Some of the more popular names of the replacement lenses are: Acuvue [R], Surevue [R], SeeQuence [R], Focus [R], and NuVues [R]. A full list of brand names may be viewed at the settlement web site.
The antitrust lawsuits against the contact lens makers allege that, beginning in 1988, consumers were forced to pay artificially high retail prices for replacement disposable contact lenses because Vistakon, B&L and CIBA had agreed with optometrists, acting through the American Optometric Association, to restrict competition. The lawsuits allege that consumers were forced to obtain their replacement contact lenses only from eye care professionals and not through other outlets such as mail or phone order, the Internet, pharmacies and drug stores.
In addition to restraints on supplies of lenses to competitive sellers, the antitrust lawsuits allege a conspiratorial restraint imposed on patients that made it difficult for many consumers to obtain their prescriptions or other information needed to buy replacement lenses from these more convenient outlets and often cheaper outlets. Both Vistakon and B&L continue to place restrictions on distribution of their replacement lenses, and the pending lawsuits seek to eliminate these continuing restrictive policies of Vistakon and B&L.