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Eye Surgery Firms Settle Charges

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two large laser eye surgery firms agreed Wednesday to settle federal charges that they blurred the truth in their advertising with misleading promises of life without glasses and perfect vision.

The Federal Trade Commission said that The Laser Vision Institute, based in Lake Worth, Fla., and Cincinnati-based LCA Vision Inc., which did business as LasikPlus, did not have scientific evidence to support claims that their LASIK procedures would eliminate for life the need for glasses, contact lenses, reading glasses or bifocals.

The FTC said LCA Vision also made unproven claims that its procedure was less risky to patients' eyes than wearing contacts or glasses.

"Companies offering any medical procedure shouldn't need glasses to see this clearly: if you over-promise, the FTC will act," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The settlement agreement bars the companies from making such claims in the future without proof, Beales said at a news conference.

The FTC said The Laser Vision Institute also allegedly made false claims that consumers would receive free consultations to see if they were good candidates for the procedure. After the initial meeting, the company required people to pay $300 before it told them if they were good candidates and revealed the risks involved, the agency said.

The companies' ads ran nationwide in newspapers and magazines and on radio, television and the Internet.

LCA Vision said in a statement that it believed its claims were supported, but it settled to avoid litigation costs. The company said the settlement probably will not affect its business.

An attorney for the other firm did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

By settling, the companies don't admit breaking any law.

LASIK procedures correct blurry vision. Doctors cut a flap in the cornea, aim a laser underneath it and use zaps of light to sculpt the cornea for sharper sight. This year, more than a million people in the United States will undergo the procedure, which typically costs more than $1,000 an eye.

About 4.5 million people have had the procedure since 1996, Beales said. Most patients get better vision, but recent studies estimate 1 percent to 5 percent suffer side effects including double vision, glare, halos or starbursts of light. Some patients' vision gets worse and others are left with painfully dry eyes.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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