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House Votes to Ban Federal Assistance for Viagra

A bill is amended to prevent Medicare and Medicaid payments for impotence drugs.

June 25, 2005|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — People could no longer use government funds to help pay for impotence drugs such as Viagra under a measure the House passed Friday.

The House voted 285-121 to pass an amendment to ban Medicare or Medicaid payments for Pfizer Inc.'s Viagra and competing drugs Levitra and Cialis.

Later Friday, the House passed the bill containing the amendment, 250 to 151. The overall legislation, providing about $602 billion in funds, is the largest domestic spending measure Congress will approve this year.

Opponents of the amendment pledged to work with the Senate this summer to strip it from the massive bill that funds federal health insurance programs, AIDS research and other health, education and labor programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

But Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who pushed the amendment through the House, said that without such prohibitions, "we will be down the slippery slope of millions of people who believe the entitlement is taxpayer-funded recreational sex drugs."

Without the ban, the government was projected to spend $2 billion in the next 10 years on payments for Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

King said U.S. taxpayers already had spent more than $117 million for patients using the drugs.

Republican Rep. Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, who chairs a congressional panel that oversees healthcare, said the measure unfairly targeted the elderly and others who suffered from serious diseases such as prostate cancer and diabetes.

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry said the measure was a blow to Medicare and Medicaid patients.

"Unfortunately, the House is telling these men, 'Tough luck, you're on you own,' " said Ken Johnson, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee opened the door to addressing in the spending bill some lawmakers' concerns about the use of federal funds for sexual dysfunction drugs. The panel approved an amendment prohibiting federal funds for such medicines being used by convicted sex offenders.

Congress is increasingly worried about the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid, the federal insurance programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

Government outlays will skyrocket as the U.S. population ages and as a new Medicare prescription drug benefit starts next year.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced separate legislation shutting down Medicare and Medicaid payments for drugs like Viagra.

But his bill would allow federal payments for the medicines if they were used for other treatments being studied by researchers.

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