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Congress cuts
federal funding for impotence drugs

Congress cuts
federal funding for impotence drugs

It took a hurricane to do it, but Congress has finally ended federal subsidies for users of Viagra and other sexual performance drugs. 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, an Iowa Republican. "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 January 1. Medicare payments for such drugs will be terminated January 1, 2007.

Studies have shown that gay men are more likely than their heterosexual peers to have tried or regularly use erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. The medications also are commonly used in combination with club drugs crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy, which in turn lead to higher rates of unprotected sex among gay and bisexual men and greater risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases, health experts say.

Rep. Nathan Deal, a Georgia Republican who sponsored the original House bill, said the government could save $690 million over five years by stopping federal subsidies for sexual performance drugs.

Under Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, states will still be allowed to subsidize Viagra and other impotence drugs if they determine such drugs are medically necessary. But they will no longer receive federal matching grants.

Congress has made several attempts in recent years to end federal subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs, but this is the first legislation to clear both chambers and be sent to the president. (AP, with additional reporting by

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