Senate Subcommittee Explores Contact Lens Pricing and Unilateral Price Policies

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The issue of contact lens pricing, particularly whether new Unilateral Price Policies (UPP) being implemented this year by several major contact lens companies, was the topic explored by a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Wednesday of this week.

After hearing testimony and asking questions about the current competitive climate among independent eyecare professionals, online retailers and optical chains in the contact lens business, the chair of the committee, U .S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) stated that the committee would “continue to actively monitor the situation” in the coming months.

Contact lens manufacturers including Alcon, Bausch + Lomb and Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, have recently implemented new UPP approaches and the hearing was set up to explore whether these policies enhanced the competitive position of certain retailers and ECPs or whether the new approach decreased competition and might lead to higher prices for consumers by eliminating the ability of retailers to discount.

Along with Klobuchar, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), ranking member of the subcommittee for Antitrust, Competition and Consumer Rights, asked questions during the session, which was titled “Pricing Policies and Competition in the Contact Lens Industry: Is What You See What You Get?”

In opening up the discussion, Klobuchar said, “As I understand it the markets for contact lenses is different than other markets. The retailer of the product is a kind of essential gatekeeper. Without his involvement or RX, [this] might impact the sale of the products. Three manufacturers have announced pricing [plans] whereby there are minimum price agreements…In some instances, [such] agreements can be justified. But in most cases the most immediate results is an increase in price, as the consumer can no longer seek the product at a lower price.”

She continued, “This is intended as an exploratory hearing. More than 35 million Americans use contact lenses. Tens of millions of consumers pay for contact lenses each year; price matters. Some consumers were lenses longer than they should. Price can impact this.”

Providing testimony at the hearing were: R. Joe Zeidner, general counsel, 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc.;  Millicent Knight, OD, CHC, FAARM, head of professional affairs, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, North America; David Cockrell, OD, president, American Optometric Association; and George Slover, senior policy counsel, Consumers Union.

The full session is posted at the U.S. Judiciary Committee’s site.