Prescription glasses in France are the most expensive in Europe, mainly because there are too many opticians, says a French consumer group.
According to Que Choisir, the authors of the report, consumers in France pay on average 50% more for their prescription glasses than elsewhere in Europe.
Per head of population the French pay an average of €75 for their glasses, compared to €56 in the UK, €34 in Italy, and €28 in Spain.
The cause of this disparity is the large gross margins taken by French opticians, whose turnover is not sufficient to meet their fixed costs.
Que Choisir state the average cost of a pair of prescription glasses in France is €470*, three times the purchase cost by the optician. This means the gross margin of the opticians works out at 233%, which rises to 317% for lenses alone.
Opticians need to impose such a margin because of the low level of sales generated by each outlet, an average of 2.8 pairs per day.
Since 2000 the number of sales outlets has increased by 47%, well in excess of the 13% increase in the population.
Que Choisir consider that nearly 4,000 of the optician outlets opened since 2000 do not respond to the needs of the consumer because they are unnecessary, and simply mean consumers are paying far more than they need to.
The irony of all of this is that despite the massive growth in optician outlets, there is a desperate shortage of ophthalmologists in many areas of France.
The cost of glasses would not be such a problem were it not for the low level of reimbursement of prescription glasses by the French health service. Less than 5% of the cost of prescription glasses is reimbursable by the assurance maladie.
Some patients are able to obtain additional reimbursement from their voluntary ‘top-up’ insurer, but unless a 5 star policy is taken out, then the level of reimbursement on such policies is low.
If you have complementary health insurance, then check out if the insurer has a 'réseaux de soins' of partner outlets, as you will then generally be offered a preferential rate by the optician.
Under pressure from the European Commission the French government have recently loosened up regulations on the advertising and sale of glasses on the internet and there are already signs that this is bringing down the cost of glasses. Some of these new internet suppliers are also deeply critical of the monopoly practices in the manufacturing chain and their associated retailers.
A large number of British expats in France also continue to get an eye test and buy their spectacles from the UK, where the prices of spectacles are often cheaper, and the service a lot quicker. Spectacles are also available over the Internet from the UK.
*A figure that disguises substantial price variations between the leading brands and low cost glasses.