Thursday, October 20, 2005


Congress shows signs of intelligent life

In passing H.R. 3971, the US Congress is showing signs of actually being inhabited by intelligent life:

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.

Two important things here: first, ending the federal subsidies for viagra, et al. Sorry, but I don’t believe the federal government (that means you and me, the taxpayers) need to finance recreational drugs of ANY kind for anybody, any more than it (we) should pay for things like breast enlargements or body piercings.

Second, the bill embraces the notion of offset spending: if we’re going to furnish this that or the other aid to hurricane victims, we need to offset that by cutting spending on something else. (I’ll leave for another day the discussion of how much and what kind of aid we should be furnishing to hurricane victims.)

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.

Now the bad news: the spending bill spends a heck of a lot more than it saves, even with the concept of offset spending being embraced:

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.

States will still be able to furnish ED drugs to the poor based on a finding of medical necessity, but won’t get federal matching funds for such Medicaid expenditures.

And here’s a further side benefit of this piece of legislation: no more free ED drugs for sex offenders:

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.

Here’s hoping this is just the tip of the iceberg, with more common-sense legislation to follow.

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