In March of this year, the French Autorité de la Concurrence sanctioned the French national association of ophthalmologists for boycotting opticians who had agreed to provide eyeglasses to patients enrolled in a no-prescription health care network.
The health care network agreed with its enrolled patients that it would reimburse 100% of the cost of eyeglasses, if the enrolled patients bought the eyeglasses without an ophthalmologist’s prescription and from an optician participating in the network. The ophthalmologists’ association called for a boycott of opticians participating in the program.
The competition authority imposed a fine of 50,000 euros on the association for organizing the group boycott.
“Eyeglass Wars” have long been a feature of competition law. The battles between ophthalmologists and optometrists, between mom-and-pop optometrists and the franchise-associated optometrists, and between the ophthalmologists and regulators such as the FTC and the French Autorité have kept antitrust courts busy for decades.
This ruling teaches us, though, that the current stresses produced by rising health care costs are likely to produce innovative entrepreneurial solutions that will discomfit health care providers, such as doctors and dentists. (The French Autorité had previously sanctioned the dentists for a similar tactic.) Some of those discomfited will likely be tempted to resort to tactics such as those employed by the French ophthalmologists. We expect to see more cases like this in the U.S. and Europe in various sectors of health care.