House Vote Bars Impotence Drugs From Medicare
Issue of Coverage by Medicare Prescription Benefit Now Goes to Senate
June 24, 2005 -- Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs won't be
covered when Medicare launches its prescription drug benefit in January,
according to a spending bill passed in the House of Representatives Friday.
Lawmakers voted to bar Medicare or Medicaid from paying for the drugs as
part of a bill funding federal health and education programs. The amendment,
which passed 285-121, comes several weeks after reports that several state
health programs were funding the drugs for prisoners, including convicted sex
Rep. Steven King (R-Iowa) -- a sponsor of the amendment -- said that without
the prohibition Medicare would wind up providing "taxpayer-funded
recreational sex drugs." The ban includes Viagra and two similar drugs,
Cialis and Levitra.
Some opponents argued that the drugs are important treatments for men who
lose sexual functioning because of illnesses including diabetes and nerve
damage. "It's important that these drugs are available when they're
medically necessary," said Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), who chairs the
Ways and Means health subcommittee.
But that argument was rejected by supporters of the ban, some of whom
stressed that federal funds should not be spent on sexual enhancement
"Sex is never medically necessary. If it was, priests wouldn't live into
their 90s," King tells WebMD.
The amendment is not the final word on the drugs. The Senate has yet to
weigh in on its own version of the health and education funding bill, and
pharmaceutical manufacturers are almost sure to use their powerful lobbying
forces to oppose the ban in the final version of the bill.
It's probably not the last word on the topic," Rep. Ralph Regula
(R-Ohio), chair of the appropriations subcommittee on health, education, and
labor, tells WebMD. Regula supported the ban.
Senate Finance Committee chair Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) last month
introduced legislation that would eliminate federal funding for Viagra, Cialis,
and Levitra. Medicare and Medicaid would spend $2 billion on the drugs over the
next decade if they remained eligible for federal funds, according to a
statement released by Grassley's office.
"We live in a world of limited resources, and those dollars could be
spent more wisely," Grassley said.
Some Cuts in Spending Bill
The amendment overshadowed the overall spending bill, which grants $63
billion on federal health programs but includes cuts to several major agencies.
Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations
Committee, expressed frustration that debate about Viagra had, at least
temporarily, taken precedence over "what is happening to sick people with
The CDC faces a $295 million cut to its budget, though the nearly 5% in
reductions was less than President Bush had asked for in his budget.
The bill also sends $28.4 billion for research at the National Institutes of
Health, a 0.5% increase after five years in which its budget was doubled by
Congress. Lawmakers also voted to cut $100 million from the U.S. contribution
to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and to cut 84%
from a program providing medical training grants to future doctors and