Hubble Contacts Settles with FTC: Contact Lens Rule Violations = $3.5 Million
By Practice Growth February 25, 2022
Vision Path, Inc., the manufacturer of Hubble contact lenses, agreed to pay $3.5 million in penalties and compensation to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that the New York City-based company violated the Contact Lens Rule (CLR) in multiple ways. Among them were failing to obtain prescriptions and properly verifying prescription information, substituting Hubble lenses for those actually prescribed to consumers, and selling contact lenses after prescription verification requests were denied by prescribers.
Additionally, the FTC alleges that the online seller of direct-to-consumer lenses violated the FTC Act by not disclosing that many reviews of Hubble lenses were not written by unbiased consumers but rather by reviewers who received compensation for their reviews. In at least one instance cited by the FTC, a review was written by one of Hubble’s own executives.
“Hubble’s business model boosted its bottom line but created needless risk for its customers’ eye health,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Today’s action makes clear that firms will pay a price for deceiving their customers, flouting the Contact Lens Rule, and using misleading reviews.”
According to the complaint, prior to the start of the FTC investigation, Hubble did not request copies of consumers’ contact lens prescriptions. In most cases, Hubble went so far as to actually prevent consumers from emailing, uploading, or otherwise providing their prescriptions to Hubble, even when consumers offered to provide that information. This tactic ensured that the company could not receive consumers’ prescriptions and thereby allowed Hubble to act as though it did not know that these customers had prescriptions for non-Hubble lenses.
Hubble would then contact customers’ prescribers to obtain verification to provide consumers with Hubble lenses. Here, Hubble again employed obfuscatory tactics. The company’s telephonic prescription verification system made it difficult, if not impossible, for prescribers to confirm that a patient’s prescription information was correct, or to deny verification if the prescription was not correct. The FTC complaint notes that, in some cases, Hubble made no verification calls at all, and in other cases, Hubble left verification messages at telephone numbers that obviously did not belong to eye care prescribers. When the prescriber failed to respond to the call it never received, Hubble took that to be “passive verification.” This type of verification occurs when a prescriber does not respond to a seller’s verification request within eight business hours. The seller can then legally make the contact lens sale to the consumer.
In other instances, Hubble delivered its verification messages in a garbled robotic computer voice that was difficult to understand. In other instances, Hubble played those messages over “You’re on hold” music despite that being a clear indication that no staff member in the prescriber’s office was listening.
The Hubble settlement imposes two separate financial penalties on the company. First, Hubble must pay a civil penalty of $1.5 million. Second, the company must pay $2 million in compensation to customers who were damaged by Hubble’s actions. The settlement also bars Hubble from the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint, including violations of the FTC Act, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA), and the Contact Lens Rule (CLR).
Hubble stated that “we disagree with many of the FTC’s claims, including the FTC’s characterization of the Hubble team’s intentions, but we believe that this settlement is the best way for Hubble to move forward so we can focus on executing our strategy to grow and evolve the company and expand on our value proposition,” said Steven Druckman, Vision Path’s chief executive.