Contact lens supplier 1-800 CONTACTS Inc. announced Jan. 31 that it signed long-term agreements with its three largest contact lens suppliers. According to a 1-800 CONTACTS press release, “The company has purchased directly from Bausch & Lomb, its fourth largest supplier, without a written agreement since 2001. Based on this longstanding relationship and recent discussions with Bausch & Lomb, the company does not expect this direct relationship to change.”
“We believe these four manufacturers represent approximately 98% of all soft contact lenses sold in the United States,” Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Coon said in the company statement.
No more legislative fights
Upon signing these agreements, 1-800 CONTACTS said it will discontinue any legislative battles surrounding contact lens distribution practices.
According to the American Optometric Association, 1-800 CONTACTS attempted to pass legislation in December 2006 that would change the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA). Jon Hymes, director of the AOA’s Washington office, said the legislation was aimed at allowing online sellers to overfill contact lens prescriptions (PCON, “AOA helps defeat latest 1-800 CONTACTS legislation,” January 2007).
In its recent press release, 1-800 CONTACTS said that it has dedicated tremendous resources to support consumers’ rights. “Today, 36 million Americans who wear contact lenses are protected by the FCLCA, which grants them a right to their prescriptions and the right to have their prescriptions verified when they purchase from a seller other than their eye doctor.
“We believe the market solution embodied in these recent supply agreements is adequate to ensure a competitive market – making legislation unnecessary at this time,” the statement read.
About a year ago, a bill was passed in Utah that would require manufacturers in that state to make their lenses available to alternative channels of distribution (PCON, “Utah bill mandates sale of contact lenses to ‘alternate’ sources,” May 2006).
In response, CooperVision announced an intensive lobbying campaign in state legislatures to defeat similar proposals “that would allow for the sale of contact lenses in what the company considers poorly regulated and potentially unsafe distribution channels,” according to a 2006 press release.
“We at CooperVision believe [such] legislation is not in the consumers’ best interest,” said Jeff McLean, president of CooperVision Americas, in a teleconference last year.
CooperVision has now signed a supply agreement with 1-800 CONTACTS. “We could no longer fight 1-800 CONTACTS and their legislative push alone,” Tom Shone, senior vice president of strategic marketing, CooperVision, told Primary Care Optometry News. “We were the only manufacturer left fighting, and eventually we were going to lose more states like Utah or at the federal level. It was a huge drain in money and time, and we couldn’t continue.
“Our deal with 1-800 CONTACTS is a win for the business,” continued Mr. Shone. “We can once again focus on offering great lenses through selected and qualified distribution contacts.”
Response from others
CIBA Vision provided a statement to PCON in response to the recent announcement from 1-800 CONTACTS: “CIBA Vision recently signed a supply agreement with 1-800 CONTACTS. This agreement is a continuation of the business relationship and previous supply agreements we have had with 1-800 CONTACTS. CIBA Vision’s portfolio of contact lenses is available through all channels of distribution – including from eye care professionals and online retailers – and our ongoing goal is to provide access to our products to all customers who adhere to and uphold our stated policies and procedures.”
Bausch & Lomb and Vistakon chose to provide no statement.
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