National / International News

Don't bother shopping around for your contact lenses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:50

 The other day, an email came in from a big online contact lens store that said, starting Aug. 1, we can all forget about getting a deal on the most popular contact lenses.  

What’s happening is something called unilateral pricing. Johnson & Johnson, which makes the top-selling Acuvue brand, is joining other manufacturers, like Alcon and Bausch & Lomb, in telling eye doctors, big box retailers and online stores that they can’t charge less than a certain amount. 

“If the retailer sets the lenses for below that price, then the supply of that particular contact lens would be cut off,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said as she opened a Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the new practices. 

“If the point is to save consumers money, I don’t know why we have a minimum price we can’t go below,” R. Joe Zeidner, general counsel at the discounter 1-800-CONTACTS, told the panel.  

The lame police are making us raise prices soon. Stock up now. #NeverRunOutOfContacts http://t.co/may0A1I2FS pic.twitter.com/fcqQdFth8B

— 1-800 Contacts (@1800CONTACTS) July 30, 2014

But pricing experts say unilateral pricing is not always bad for consumers. 

“They can compete on other things,” said Barbara Sicalides, a partner and antitrust expert at the law firm, Pepper Hamilton. Companies like Bose use unilateral pricing to maintain cachet. Others, like Samsung, use minimum prices to help combat “showrooming,” helping stores staffed with knowledgeable salespeople compete with online sellers.

“One benefit is that you’re going to have more services provided to you when you buy some very complex products,” says John Zhang, a pricing expert and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.  

But buying contacts is different. Your doctor has already told you what to buy, and gets paid separately for the exam. 

Eliminating discounts may make you more willing to buy directly from the optometrist. That’s the accusation made by contact lens discounters like 1-800-CONTACTS. 

At the hearing, Dr. Millicent Knight, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care's head of professional affairs, said the new pricing is simpler and cheaper for most. It eliminates cumbersome rebates, and has “a price that is actually lower than the current national average selling price to consumers," she said. 

But that’s just the average. For the roughly 10 percent of shoppers who buy online, according to Euromonitor, prices will likely go up.  

And, all of this is perfectly legal, as long as manufacturers aren’t actively coordinating prices among themselves or with retailers.

Policy change in effect

Dan Bobkoff/Marketplace

Man arrested in Syria terror inquiry

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:48
A 23-year-old man is arrested in west London - and later bailed - on suspicion of raising money for terrorism in Syria.

Power station fire damages tower

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:40
A large fire breaks out at Ferrybridge C power station in West Yorkshire, causing the partial collapse of a tower.

Gaza school attack unacceptable - US

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:34
The shelling of a UN shelter in Gaza by the Israeli military is "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible", the White House says.

US ex-governor's wife 'sought gifts'

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:27
The star witness in the corruption trial of Virginia ex-governor Bob McDonnell says the ex-first lady sought gifts in return for business help.

On Either Side Of Gaza, Leaders' Gain Support — But Blame Game Awaits

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:26

Nearly a month into the war in Gaza, pollsters have been taking a look at how attitudes in the region have changed among Israelis and Palestinians.

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Amid Smoking Decline, Look Who's Still Lighting Up

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:20

Analysts say the merger of Reynolds American and Lorillard is driven by the changing demographics of smoking. But the lower smoking rate masks a more complex and varied pattern of cigarette usage.

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With Prosecutors Circling, Ethics Questions Get Serious For N.Y. Governor

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing reports that his administration interfered with the work of an anti-corruption commission that he created — and then abruptly disbanded.

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In Obama's Foreign Policy, Some See Patience; Some See Passivity

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

Foreign policy was once a strong suit for President Obama, but polls now show widespread disapproval of his handling of foreign affairs. The White House insists that Obama is leading the way in global hot spots like Ukraine, but his cautious and measured strategy may require more patience than many Americans are willing to grant.

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CIA Director Apologizes For Meddling In Senate Computers

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

Months after denying that the CIA could have been snooping on Senate staff, agency director John Brennan has apologized to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss.

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Facing Conservative Opposition, House Republicans Nix Border Bill Vote

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

House GOP leaders have abruptly canceled a vote on their own bill meant to address the surge of unaccompanied minors at the Mexican border. An effort to pass a pared down version of President Obama's request was blocked by a group of Tea Party conservatives. NPR's Senior Correspondent Ron Elving discusses the state of play.

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To Understand Putin's Policy, Dissect The Kremlin's Inner Circles

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

Some foreign policy analysts say that factions in Moscow are competing to influence Russian President Vladimir Putin as he decides policy on Ukraine. Others say that Putin is pursuing his own line.

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Facing A Mass-Mailing Deadline, Lawmakers Get Frank Fast

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

According to federal election law, members of Congress can't do official mass mailings — or other mass communications — within 90 days of an election. That deadline is approaching.

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Star Witness Steps Up To The Stand In McDonnell's Corruption Trial

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

The corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell continues to unfold, as the prosecution's feature witness, Star Scientific's Jonnie Williams, testified against McDonnell and his wife.

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Sierra Leone Declares Quarantine, As Ebola Outbreak Worsens

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

A surge of new cases in West Africa's Ebola virus outbreak has health officials worried that the epidemic is getting worse. Sierra Leone, for one, has declared a state of emergency, sending in troops to quarantine some of the hardest hit communities.

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Facing A Mass-Mailing Deadline, Lawmakers Get Frank Fast

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

A big week in congressional mailing: Members of Congress can't use "franking" to send mass mailings during a blackout that starts 90 days before an election. That deadline is approaching.

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With Prosecutors Circling, Ethics Questions Get Serious For N.Y. Governor

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing reports that his administration interfered with the work of an anti-corruption commission that he created — and then abruptly disbanded.

» E-Mail This

In Obama's Foreign Policy, Some See Patience; Some See Passivity

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

Foreign policy was once a strong suit for President Obama, but polls now show widespread disapproval of his handling of foreign affairs.

» E-Mail This

In Debt Duel, It Was Argentina V. Paul Singer

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

Argentina has defaulted on billions of dollars of government debt, and it's partly due to a bunch of New Yorkers. Forbes writer Agustino Fontevecchia explains the confrontation between Argentina and a New York-based hedge fund manager named Paul Singer.

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In Gaza, A Day That Begins In Fear Ends In Cease-Fire Agreement

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-31 12:15

The day began with Israel's military calling up 16,000 more reservists, stoking fears of a widening offensive in Gaza; it ended with a 72-hour cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

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