02/21/05 — Medicare: Paying for discretionary medicine is a mistake

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Medicare: Paying for discretionary medicine is a mistake

Medicare has decided to cover sexual-performance drugs in its new prescription drug program. That is a mistake.

The cost of providing essential medicine through the Medicare program for the aged and Medicaid plan for the poor already threatens to carry governments at every level toward bankruptcy.

If you don’t believe it, just ask a county commissioner who must help draft an annual county budget that includes ever-increasing, non-discretionary payments for Medicaid.

Or ask a doctor whose approved payment under Medicare was maybe a tenth of the charge for a diagnosis or procedure.

Or ask a hospital official how the institution makes up for being shorted by Medicare and Medicaid, which often don’t even pay the out-of-pocket costs of providing the care. Here’s how they do it: In essence, they raise everybody else’s bill.

If the government has extra money to pay for discretionary prescriptions like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, it should pay more of the real costs of the care that is necessary to good health.

A case might be made that such drugs perform a health-protecting function such as increasing happiness. Some of us also would be happy if the government helped us pay for surgery to transplant some hair on those bald spots on the crown of our heads. That wouldn’t be right, either.

But who knows? If the government will take money from taxpayers to help restore a man’s ability to have sex, maybe someday it will also pay more attention to his appearance. Hair transplants may be next.

Published in Editorials on February 21, 2005 9:58 AM