- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Federal officials are scrambling to plug a legal loophole that allows convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders to receive erectile-dysfunction drugs paid for by Medicaid.

The issue was revealed Sunday by the New York state comptroller’s office, which said audits of the period from January 2000 to March 2005 found that 198 sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions. Their crimes included offenses against children as young as 2, Comptroller Alan Hevesi said.

“Now that this issue has been brought to our attention, we are certainly going to see what we can do administratively, if anything,” said Mary Kahn, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

She said legislation might be needed to address the issue. New York’s Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, said they would support such a bill. Mr. Schumer said he will sponsor the legislation.

“Giving convicted sex offenders government-funded Viagra is like giving convicted murderers an assault rifle when they get out of jail,” Mr. Schumer said.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said yesterday he would try to end the “perverse misuse of the taxpayers’ money” as part of the committee’s work to reform Medicaid.

Miss Kahn said taxpayer-funded Viagra for sex offenders was an unintended consequence of the Medicaid law and an issue that the federal government hadn’t known about before Mr. Hevesi’s report.

States can limit the number of pills dispensed to cut costs, she said, but action on specific drugs must be the same for all Medicaid patients.

“We are going to make every effort to see what the states or federal government can take to address this problem without harming people who have a legitimate need for this drug, such as men who had prostate cancer and diabetes,” Miss Kahn said. “We want to see what remedies there are to address this problem.”

In a letter Sunday to HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, Mr. Hevesi requested immediate action.

Mr. Hevesi’s study only covered Viagra, Hevesi spokesman David Neustadt said. State auditors are reviewing whether other prescription drugs for sexual dysfunction are being reimbursed by Medicaid for convicted sex offenders in the state.

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