December 15, 2003

Insurance Companies Drop Lasik Chain After Action News Investigation

TAMPA - Tens of thousands of people in the Bay area went to the Lasik Vision Institute because their insurance companies offered a special deal on Lasik eye surgery. Now, those companies are taking action to protect their customers.

When Erica Patterson had Lasik surgery at the Lasik Vision Institute, she thought she was getting a great deal.

"I thought it was a great benefit thinking that I lucked out with this great insurance company and that I was going to save money," she explained.

Erica is a nurse at St. Joe's Hospital, where she learned about the Florida Employer's Association (FEA). The FEA offers employees benefits on optical and dental services.

"This is an insurance card that was offered to me, Vision Select, which was an optical benefit," she continued.

Vision Select offered huge discounts on eyeglasses and Lasik surgery, but with a catch. Patients must buy their glasses at Eyeglass World and must have Lasik surgery at LVI.

LVI SOLD

The Lasik Vision Institute, the focus of a five-month ABC Action News investigation, has been sold to a Boston-based corporation that specializes in turning around troubled companies.

The new CEO promises to make changes, admitting, "There were some business practices that could have been handled differently."

Back in July, Action News uncovered six LVI patients who got terrible eye infections on the same day after having Lasik surgery at LVI.

Later that month, Action News hidden cameras exposed LVI's questionable sales practices. An LVI salesman refused to give our customer the advertised sales price for Lasik. He also would not allow our customer to see a surgeon before the day of surgery.

In August, LVI customers filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming LVI lured them using deceptive advertising.

In September, based in part on the Action News reports, state Attorney General Charlie Crist launched a criminal investigation into LVI. That investigation is still ongoing and includes allegations of racketeering.

In November, LVI's former medical director blew the whistle, showing Action News proof that LVI made big profits by selling medical products to patients who did not need them.

Erica went ahead and scheduled surgery at LVI in Tampa, but instead of saving money, she paid thousands and now her vision is even worse than before.

"My left eye is fuzzier than my right, and there's a constant feeling that there's sand in it," Erica complained.

Since Vision Select is listed by FEA as the optical provider, Erica wondered why she could only go to LVI for the surgery. It turns out that Vision Select, Eyeglass World, and LVI are all owned by the same people.

"I would never have known that they were in conjunction with each other," Erica said, adding that she felt scammed.

Action News found dozens of LVI customers who've also had problems after surgery. Still, big insurance companies were sending people there.

"Sounded like a good thing to us at the time," said Michael Diana, who owns The Nicholas Group, an insurance company that offers FEA benefits to thousands of people.

But Diana said he was shocked by what Action News found; he said he feels Vision Select misrepresented itself, and concealed its association with LVI.

"I thought it was disgraceful and it was disheartening that the company that we're putting into our program is hurting people the way they are," he said.

The Nicholas Group sent a letter out to all 20,000 customers, which said because of the Action News investigation, they've decided to stop doing business with Vision Select, Eyeglass World, and LVI.

"We've completely taken them off our Web site, our booklets," Diana continued.

The move came too late for folks like Erica Patterson. She wishes she had never heard of LVI in the first place.

"I felt like I was taken advantage of, especially since I work in the medical field," Erica added.

Meanwhile, another Bay area insurance company called Advance Benefits has also stopped doing business with LVI because of the Action News reports.

www.abcactionnews.com/stories/2003/12/031215lasik.shtml

Posted by Admin at December 15, 2003 01:57 AM