The Federal Trade Commission today issued an order requiring Ohio-based LCA-Vision, doing business as LasikPlus and Joffe MediCenter, to pay $1.25 million for using deceptive bait-and-switch advertising to trick consumers into believing they could have their vision corrected for less than $300. In reality only 6.5 percent of consumers lured in for consultations were eligible for the advertised promotional price for both eyes.
According to the FTC, despite the advertising claims, for consumers with less than near-normal vision (good enough to drive without glasses), the company typically quoted a price between $1,800 and $2,295 per eye. In some ads LCA, the largest nationwide LASIK surgery chain, also neglected to tell consumers up-front that the promotional price was per-eye only.
“LasikPlus lured customers in with a low-price offer that almost no one actually got, and today’s order requires the company to fix its advertising and compensate consumers for their wasted time,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Especially as costs rise, the Commission will not tolerate companies that trick people into thinking they’ll save money on products or services.”
LCA-Vision operates vision centers in many states, performing procedures including LASIK surgery that can correct vision. While LASIK typically costs consumers about $2,000 per eye, between 2015 and 2020 LCA’s LasikPlus centers ran ads on television, radio, in print, in shopping flyers, and digitally offering the procedure for a promotional price of as low as $250. During much of the same time its Joffe MediCenters ran ads offering to provide LASIK surgery to consumers for $295. But both the LasikPlus and Joffe MediCenter ads failed to adequately disclose the stringent requirements consumers had to meet to get the discounted promotional price.
According to the FTC’s administrative complaint:
- LCA aggressively marketed prices of $250 for LASIK surgery, yet only 6.5 percent of patients who received consultations qualified for that price in both eyes, and only 1.3 percent actually ended up getting LASIK for this promotional price;
- Consumers did not learn the actual price of the LASIK surgery until they had spent considerable time and effort undergoing lengthy full-dilation eye exams and in-person consultations;
- LCA’s websites failed to consistently disclose eligibility restrictions, or did so only in fine print at the bottom of the page; and
- LCA’s call center operators also often refused to reveal the eligibility requirements to consumers.
In addition to paying $1.25 million to redress consumers, LCA will be barred from the deceptive conduct alleged in the complaint and required to make certain clear and conspicuous disclosures when advertising LASIK at a price or discount for which most consumers would not qualify. These disclosures include whether the price is per eye, the price most consumers pay per eye, and any requirements or qualifications needed to get the offered price or discount.
The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and to accept the consent agreement was 3-1, with Commissioner Christine S. Wilson voting no and issuing a separate dissenting statement. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register soon. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Instructions for filing comments appear in the published notice. Comments must be received 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Once processed, comments will be posted on Regulations.gov.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $50,120.