Aug 4, 2019

Shameless monopolies are growing in plain sight

Felix Salmon, author of Edge

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Given all the antitrust scrutiny being aimed at the tech giants, it can be surprising to see other monopolies operating — and even growing via acquisition — with few if any regulatory consequences.

Monopoly 1: EssilorLuxottica is a $50 billion eyewear giant that incorporates everything from lens manufacturers to dozens of brands such as Oakley, Ray-Ban, Varilux, LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. If your frames are from Chanel or Prada or Versace, they are EssilorLuxottica products.

  • The latest giant to be swept up into the EssilorLuxottica monopoly: GrandVision, a chain with more than 7,200 stores globally.
  • European antitrust regulators might force some divestments in France and Belgium, but either way, this deal will only serve to consolidate EssilorLuxottica's global monopoly.
  • Curiously, this $7.9 billion deal is being done while EssilorLuxottica is still searching for a new CEO.
"If the deal goes through, it would strengthen EssilorLuxottica’s ability to charge markups of as much as 1,000% for frames and lenses -- market power that comes from controlling all aspects of production, owning the country’s largest chain of glasses stores and operating a major insurance plan."
David Lazarus, LA Times

Monopoly 2: Surescripts manages about 80% of all prescriptions in America. It's owned by industry giants CVS and Express Scripts, and if your prescription is filled electronically, it's almost certainly filled by Surescripts. In the words of Amazon, Surescripts is "the sole clearinghouse for medication history in the United States."

  • Driving the news: CVS and Express Scripts are facing competition from PillPack, which is owned by Amazon. Now Surescripts won't give PillPack the information it needs to find out what medicines its customers have been prescribed.
  • The FTC is taking legal action against Surescripts, accusing it of forcing pharmacies to use its services. But that doesn't seem to be helping Amazon, whose PillPack product is a masterpiece of design that — by sending your pills in presorted packets that tell you when to ingest them — significantly increases the probability that patients will take all their pills as prescribed.

The bottom line: The world is full of anticompetitive monopolies, many of which operate in plain sight.

Go deeper: The monopolization of patient drug data

Go deeper

Biden formally secures Democratic presidential nomination

Joe Biden speaks at Delaware State University's student cente on June 5. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden became the formal Democratic presidential nominee on Friday evening, per AP.

The big picture: Biden has been the presumptive frontrunner to take on President Trump since Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in early April.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 6,724.516 — Total deaths: 394,018 — Total recoveries — 2,996,832Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 1,894,753 — Total deaths: 109,042 — Total recoveries: 491,706 — Total tested: 19,231,444Map.
  3. Public health: WHCA president says White House violated social-distancing guidelines to make reporters "a prop" — Jailing practices contribute to spread.
  4. Sports: How coronavirus could reshuffle the sports calendar.
  5. Jobs: Better-than-expected jobs report boosts stock market.
  6. Media: The Athletic lays off 8% of staff, implements company-wide pay cut.

Scoop: German foreign minister to travel to Israel with warning on annexation

Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Israel next week to warn that there will be consequences if Israeli leaders move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli and European officials agree that if Israel goes ahead with unilateral annexation, the EU will respond with sanctions.