Medicare/Medicaid and the Rising Cost of Sexual Activity for Seniors

As Bill Mahr humorously, but perhaps, ineloquently stated as a “New Rule” last Friday night on his HBO show “Real Time,” the feds have been investigating the rising costs for durable medical equipment to see if certain types of equipment should be added to the competitive bidding list.  Enter the swelling controversy surrounding the penis pump, more formally known as the “vacuum erection system.”  Over the five-six year period between 2006-2011, Medicare paid an average of $451 per pump.  That left a $90 co-pay per patient with Medicare picking up the remaining 80%.  Comparatively, the VA paid only $186 for each device.  And, is anyone surprised that any average shopper could find less expensive pumps online?  Medicare purchased 473,000 pumps over the period investigated.  Predictably, there is controversy underlying adding these devices to the competitive bidding program, as many conservative groups argue that these expenditures are wasteful and detract from true “health” related expenditures.

But, perhaps we shouldn’t jump past the “health” aspects of sex so cavalierly.  Sure, in 2006 Congress barred medications like Viagra from being covered under Medicare Part D, the bill’s sponsor stating he didn’t want to have taxpayers subsidizing “grandpa’s recreational sex.”  But, there is a larger bias here that is arguably being overlooked:  the health aspects of sex in any adult human’s life.  The clear bias exists that seniors are, or should be, asexual.  Yet, how is that any different from the argument against younger, college age women who many on the left have argued should be insured for birth control pills.  It seems at some base level, Americans are just prudish at worst or giggling adolescents in general when it comes to a healthy discussion about human sexuality.  Is sex really just to procreate?  Recent studies say no and that more than half of men and 40% of women over age 65 are sexually active.

So, at least one author urges that we just insist that Medicare not get ripped off by price-gouging device suppliers and continue to cover the devices, perhaps as well Viagra and then the discussion will shift to condoms and safe sex and STD control for seniors as well as the general population.  This all in the name of health and to avoid “ageism.”  At some point, we all must address the limits the system can bear and the “Pentagon-Contractor” nature of the abuse and over-charging that is a huge source of the problems.  One thing is for sure, as millions of Baby-Boomers age into retirement, “No-Sex for Grandpa” rules probably are not going to work.

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