WASHINGTON — It took a hurricane to do it, but Congress has finally ended federal subsidies for users of Viagra and other sexual performance drugs.
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The Senate on Wednesday passed without debate and sent to the president legislation that ends Medicare and Medicaid payments for erectile dysfunction drugs as part of a package that extends medical help for the poor and provides unemployment benefit aid to states hit by Hurricane Katrina.
“This legislation extends very important benefits for people who live on the edge of poverty,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
“And the provision included to offset the cost of these programs recognizes that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for certain lifestyle prescription drugs through Medicare and Medicaid.”
The measure ends federal Medicaid payments for erectile dysfunction drugs as of Jan. 1, 2006. Medicare payments for such drugs will be terminated Jan. 1, 2007.
Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., who sponsored the original House bill, said the government could save $690 million over five years by stopping federal subsidies for sexual performance drugs.
The savings will allow the government to extend for two years the Qualified Individual program that helps low-income families with their Medicare Part B premiums. It extends for three months a temporary medical assistance program that helps families make the transition from welfare to work.
Deal said the legislation also would provide $500 million in federal unemployment funds to hurricane-affected states to help them pay benefits to out-of-work people: $400 million to Louisiana, $85 million to Mississippi and $15 million to Alabama.
Under Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, states will still be allowed to subsidize Viagra and other impotence drugs if they determine such drugs are medically necessary. But they will no longer receive federal matching grants.
Congress has made several attempts in recent years to end federal subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs, but this is the first to clear both chambers and be sent to the president.
A survey by The Associated Press earlier this year showed nearly 800 convicted sex offenders in 14 states received erectile dysfunction drugs filled by Medicaid.
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