State restrictions on the eyeglass industry lead to such excessively high prices that millions of consumers are overcharged and countless thousands of poor and elderly just do without glasses, a Senate subcommittee was told yesterday.
The total excess charge may be $400 million a year, by one calculation, because of laws and regulations forbidding price advertising and other business practices that could make the nation's $2 billion-a-year eyeglass industry more competitive.
"We have found that the same pair of glasses may be available for around $15 in one store and between $50 and $70 in another store nearby," said bespectacled Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) in opening two days of investigative hearings by the Small Business Committee's monopoly subcommittee.
He attributed such variance to a "lack of adequate price information available to the public brought about by state laws and the regulations imposed by state regulatory boards as well as the codes of ethics of the professional organizations."
The Federal Trade Commission says that, while about 50 per cent of the entire American public wears corrective lenses, the persentage rises with age. Ninety-three per cent of those above 65 need glasses.
Since 1975, the FTC staff is expected to recommend to the full commission whether to enact regulations permitting the advertising of eyeglass prices.
Margery Waxman Smith, acting director of the FTC's staff is expected to recommend to the full commission whether to enact regulations permitting the advertising of eyeglass prices.
Margery Waxman Smith, acting director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, told Nelson price information could be especially useful to the 20 million elderly who need glasses but may be physically unable to shop for a bargain.
All states have some restrictions on the eyeglass business, yet some state laws permit advertising in the face of professional associations' restrictions forbidding it, said Smith.
Federal agencies are to testify today on their wholesale purchase prices. Wholesale prices, Nelson said, can be a tiny fraction of retail charges.
Subcommittee staff economist Benjamin Gordon, who also wears glasses, said after the hearing that the sessions are designed to make the public aware that glasses, like cars, are now mass produced by machines and that buyers can shop for a bargain.
The hearings, he said, also stimulate public pressure to do away with advertising restrictions. As witness Lee Benham, an economic professor said, if opticians and optometrists continue to hold the "political power, they can keep the prices up."