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Measure would halt federal funding for impotence drugs

Medicaid allots $38m annually

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers have moved to eliminate federal payments for Viagra and other drugs that treat impotence, as a federal agency warned states that they could face sanctions if they don't end Medicaid coverage for such drugs for convicted sex offenders.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated Tuesday that Medicaid spends about $38 million a year on erectiledysfunction drugs, all but $2 million for Viagra.

That's too much for Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who introduced legislation that would eliminate all federal payments, both Medicaid and Medicare, for these drugs.

Absent a ban, he said Tuesday, Medicaid and Medicare would spend $2 billion on impotence drugs between 2006 and 2015.

''We live in a world of limited resources, and those dollars could be spent more wisely," said Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Republican Senators Trent Lott of Mississippi, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and John Ensign of Nevada cosponsored the bill.

Julie Teer, a spokeswoman for Governor Mitt Romney, said that only 22 of the roughly 975,000 Medicaid recipients in Massachusetts have prescriptions for Viagra or similar drugs, and none are sex offenders.

She said the state does not plan to change any of its policies to address the issue, because Medicaid is a federal-state program and the Bush administration has pledged to take action.

Legislation introduced in the House in February with 29 cosponsors would exclude coverage for Viagra under the Medicare prescription drug benefit. More than 400 convicted sex offenders in New York and Florida have been reimbursed for the drugs. The Medicaid agency issued its directive after New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi announced Sunday that from 2000 through March, 198 rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions.

In a letter to the states, Dennis Smith, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said states should review their procedures and work with physicians and pharmacists to prevent Medicaid payments for sex offenders' impotence drugs. Providing the drugs to sex offenders could ''constitute fraud, abuse, or inappropriate use of Medicaid funds," he wrote.

Agency spokesman Gary Karr said sanctions could include a warning letter and withholding federal funds.

''We really don't think there are going to be many states that are going to be slow about finding a way to keep convicted sex offenders from getting erectiledysfunction drugs," Karr said.

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