ALBANY, N.Y. - Federal officials are scrambling to find a way to plug a legal loophole that allows convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders to receive erectile-dysfunction drugs paid for by Medicaid.
The issue was revealed Sunday by the New York state comptroller's office, which said audits covering the period of January 2000 to March 2005 found 198 sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions. Their crimes included offenses against children as young as 2 years old, Comptroller Alan Hevesi said.
"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 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
She said legislation may be needed to address the issue. New York's two senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats, said they would support such a bill. Schumer said he will sponsor the legislation.
"Giving convicted sex offenders government-funded Viagra is like giving convicted murderers an assault rifle when they get out of jail," Schumer said.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said Monday he would try to end the "perverse misuse of the taxpayers' money" as part of the committee's work to reform Medicaid.
Kahn said taxpayer-funded 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.
States can limit the number of pills dispensed to cut costs, she said, but action on specific drugs must be the same for all Medicaid patients.
"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," Kahn said. "We want to see what remedies there are to address this problem."
In a letter Sunday to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, Hevesi requested immediate action.
Hevesi's study only covered Viagra, Hevesi spokesman David Neustadt said. State auditors are reviewing whether other prescription drugs for sexual dysfunction are being reimbursed by Medicaid for convicted sex offenders in the state, Neustadt said.
Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.