Anyone with impaired vision knows that eyewear doesn’t come cheap. While prices vary depending on the brand, design, and style of frames you select, a pair of prescription glasses can easily set you back several hundred dollars.

And as the Los Angeles Times explains, we’ve all been getting ripped off. The average cost of frames is $231, according to VSP Vision Care, but the actual cost of the materials is fractional. Acetate frames are made of plastic and metal, and those components can cost as little as $10, according to some estimates. That means consumers often end up paying 10 to 20 times what the frames and lenses are actually worth. So what gives?

This markup can be attributed to the monopoly held by a single company called Luxottica. The Italian company owns and holds licenses with some of the most recognizable name brand, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Michael Kors, DKNY, Coach, Burberry, Versace, and Chanel. It also operates more than 7400 optical stores around the world, including LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, and EyeMed Vision Care. A lack of competition—which might drive prices down—means Luxottica can keep eyeglasses pricey.

Luxottica gained even greater access to the global market when it merged with France’s Essilor eyewear company last fall. At the time of the merger, Essilor CEO Hubert Sagnières framed the creation of the new entity—EssilorLuxottica—as a positive for customers. “The creation of EssilorLuxottica is a defining moment in our fight to elevate the importance of good vision as both a basic human right and a key lever for global development,” Sagnières said, according to the Australian ophthalmic magazine Insight.

Some groups, like Consumer Watchdog, think the true cost of eyewear should be part of the national health care discussion, right alongside the high cost of many prescription drugs. However, many companies keep that information closely guarded, as the Los Angeles Times found out, and there's little chance that those figures will be made publicly known anytime soon.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]