Because Viagra is sometimes used to treat enlarged hearts, federal officials have decided it should be covered under the Medicare prescription drug plan set to begin next year. But some conservative groups are upset. They note, of course, that Viagra is most commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction, and they are outraged that tax payers will financing what, at least one of their leaders calls "the romance of 76 million baby boomers."
Sexual performance drugs such as Viagra will be covered in Medicare's new prescription drug program, a benefit that some conservatives and watchdog groups say the government shouldn't provide.
The voluntary prescription coverage, which President George W. Bush signed into law two years ago, begins next year on Jan. 1.
It's expected to cover the drug expenses of 11 million low-income older and disabled people and cost more than $500 billion over the next decade.
"The law says if it's an FDA-approved drug and it is medically necessary, it has to be covered," said Gary Karr, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the health insurance program for older Americans.
Under the program, prescriptions for Viagra and similar drugs in its class will be controlled, like those for maladies such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Pfizer's Viagra, Bayer's Levitra and Eli Lilly & Co.'s Cialis are used primarily to treat erectile dysfunction, but they also help treat enlarged hearts that can result from high blood pressure.
"Asking Uncle Sam to pay for the romance of 76 million baby boomers will quicken the impending collapse of Medicare," said Tom Schatz, president of a taxpayer watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste.
Karr said no analysis has been done on the cost of covering sexual performance drugs.
Others say the law puts Congress, and not doctors, in the position of deciding which drugs should be covered -- precisely the kind of big-government role that Republicans and Bush campaigned against.
"You cannot have a universal entitlement like this without extreme micromanagement," said Robert Moffit, a health care analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Indeed, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, talk turned to what types of drugs are covered by the new law.
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