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Should Insurance Cover Viagra?

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McGarvey says that Americans expect their health insurance to provide more benefits than ever before. These expectations are partly due to new technologies, he says -- and partly because people fortunate enough to be able to afford health insurance are getting spoiled.

"I think because insurance has become so incredibly complicated, most Americans are reasonably confused about the coverage they have and don't have," he says. "The expectation is that it should cover whatever they want, as often as they want it. Americans tend to have very high expectations and are very unhappy when these expectations are thwarted in any way."

McGarvey points out that there is a limit to what insurers can do. At current rates, one in five Americans will be uninsured by the year 2008. The question the nation must face, he says, is whether less extensive health insurance should be given to more people, or more extensive health insurance should be given to fewer people.

"We are confronting a national embarrassment which is the number of people that are uninsured," McGarvey says. "We know health insurance is an important but increasingly expensive component of our lives. We need to think about it and exercise some judgement in making and adhering to some difficult decisions. As you add more and more and more benefits, insurance will become less and less affordable and people will drop out of the insurance pool. And that is bad for a growing number of people."

Smith agrees that McGarvey is raising important questions. "The points that Dr. McGarvey makes are very good ones -- and we are looking at two sides of the same coin," he says. "I don't think that you can base insurance coverage just on cost-effectiveness. There are other factors. But it should certainly be a factor."

Vital Information:

  • New research shows that Viagra is cost-effective for improving quality of life, but there is still debate about whether health insurance should pay for this drug.
  • One researcher argues that insurance companies pay for treatment of other illnesses, such as migraine headaches, that aren't life threatening, so Viagra should be covered as well.
  • Another expert argues that Americans who have health insurance expect too much, and that adding more benefits only increases costs, which increases the number of uninsured.
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