Medicare Spending Cuts on Erection Aids Would Save $444 Million

Congress is poised to prohibit Medicare from spending an estimated $444 million for vacuum pumps used to treat erectile dysfunction in the next decade, a cost-saving move that may frustrate people who can’t afford drugs such as Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra.

Medicare’s prescription-drug benefit, created in 2003, generally isn’t permitted to cover Viagra or other erectile-dysfunction medicines. A bill under consideration by Congress would put a similar ban on the pump devices some people use as an alternative. The spending estimate was published yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office.

Cutting Medicare coverage of the pumps will help offset the cost of creating new tax-advantaged savings accounts for severely disabled people. The accounts would help them qualify for programs for low-income people, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, because most of the savings wouldn’t be considered assets.

Medicare spent $172 million on the devices from 2006 to 2011, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services found in a December 2013 report. The payments were “grossly excessive,” the deputy inspector general, Gloria Jarmon, said at the time, because Medicare paid more than twice retail prices for the pumps.

The legislation to create the accounts and cut Medicare coverage of vacuum pumps is scheduled to be considered by the House this week and combined with year-end tax measures. The bill, introduced by Representative Ander Crenshaw, a Florida Republican, has 380 sponsors.

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