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Move to close Viagra loophole

Medicaid paid for sex offenders' pills

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The Bush administration is scrambling to find a way to end a nationwide practice in which convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders receive erectile-dysfunction drugs paid for by taxpayers.

''We are just so outraged," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, an advocacy group named for a New Jersey girl raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex offender. ''The federal government is inadvertently facilitating the sexual assault of children. . . . It is as though they are giving a loaded gun to a murderer. The effect will be devastating."

She learned that Medicaid paid for Viagra and other similar medicines for sex offenders nationwide through an announcement Sunday by New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

''Now that this issue has been brought to our attention, we are certainly going to see what we can do administratively, if anything," said Mary Kahn, spokeswoman for the US Department of Health and Human Services. ''To my knowledge, you can't target a population to do that."

She said legislation may be needed to address the issue. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said they would support such a bill. Schumer said he will sponsor the legislation.

''It's hard to imagine a more perverse misuse of the taxpayers' money, and I'm going to do everything in my power to stop it," said Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee. ''Blind adherence to the misguided rules within the federal bureaucracy regularly produces outcomes that are either hilarious or outrageous, but this is unique. Only a Medicaid bureaucrat could give Viagra to rapists and think it was OK."

Kahn said taxpayer-paid Viagra for sex offenders was an ''unintended consequence" of Medicaid law and an issue the federal government hadn't known about before Hevesi's report.

Kahn said states apparently can only limit the number of pills dispensed, and action on specific drugs must be for all Medicaid patients. She said some states have taken action to reduce the cost of the healthcare program for the poor paid for by federal, state, and -- only in New York -- local taxes.

''We are going to make every effort to see what the states or federal government can take to address this problem without harming people who have a legitimate need for this drug, such as men who had prostate cancer and diabetes," she said. ''We want to see what remedies there are to address this problem."

In a letter Sunday to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, Hevesi requested that immediate administrative action be taken or that Leavitt draft an amendment to the Medicaid law if necessary. Audits by Hevesi's office showed that between Jan. 1, 2000, and March 31 of this year, 198 Level 3 sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions.

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