Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The key senator in charge of Medicare and Medicaid legislation yesterday introduced a bill to stop those programs from paying for drugs that treat male impotence.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the federal government should not spend a projected $2 billion over 10 years for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, the most common male impotence drugs.

“By eliminating all federal payments for certain ‘lifestyle’ drugs, the legislation restores the fundamental concept of stewardship to prescription-drug coverage under federal programs,” Mr. Grassley said.

The federal body that governs Medicare ruled earlier this year that, under the 2003 Medicare overhaul bill, the program will begin paying for drugs to treat erectile-dysfunction in January.

Mr. Grassley — chief architect of the Senate’s version of the Medicare bill — said that does not square with his view of being a “good steward” of taxpayers’ dollars.

“Some certainly may argue that these ‘lifestyle’ drugs can improve your life,” he said. “I appreciate that view. However, we live in a world of limited resources. In that world of limited resources, coverage of these ‘lifestyle’ drugs under Medicare — or any other federal program, in my opinion — is inconsistent with that goal of balance.”

Mr. Grassley’s bill would not prevent coverage of these drugs if they are prescribed for treating something other than sexual performance.

The Congressional Budget Office reported last week that Medicare spending on impotence drugs would total $1.93 billion over 10 years, with $730 million being spent in the first five years. After 2010, the CBO estimate shows spending increasing by $20 million a year and figures that the government will be spending $280 million a year by 2015.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, had a bill that would have prevented Medicare from covering drugs treating erectile dysfunction, but said he will probably follow Mr. Grassley’s lead and expand his bill to also include federal Medicaid payments.

“To have that kind of support over on the Senate side and working with my fellow Iowa colleague, I’m confident now we will get the job done,” Mr. King said.

Drug manufacturers oppose legislation to end coverage, arguing that treating erectile dysfunction is part of overall treatment for patients.

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