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Maryland lawsuit accuses maker of contact lenses of illegal pricing strategy

Maryland's Office of the Attorney General is accusing Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. in a lawsuit of conspiring with retailers to set a higher minimum price for contact lenses.

The civil lawsuit, filed by the AG's antitrust division, says the nation's largest maker of contact lenses violated Maryland's antitrust law. The complaint seeks civil penalties and an end to anti-competitive pricing policies.

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"Our actions related to our Unilateral Pricing Policy have been appropriate and responsible, and we believe the policy itself is lawful," the company said in a statement. "We are reviewing the suit and remain committed to providing innovative and accessible eye care options to patients."

According to documents obtained during an investigation, customers are paying 35 percent more for a monthly supply of Acuvue lenses based on a pricing strategy imposed on club membership discount stores, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said.

"We live in a world where we expect competition to flourish," Frosh said in a statement. "It is deeply disturbing that so many Marylanders are paying artificially high prices for a product they need for their daily lives."

The lawsuit says Florida-based Johnson & Johnson set minimum prices for all sellers, including discounters, in 2014. The manufacturer subsequently reached a pricing agreement with Costco, the lawsuit says. It says the price of a 30-day supply of Acuvue Moist lenses rose 35 percent to $33.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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