(Adds reaction, paragraphs 7-8)
WASHINGTON Jan 13 Penis pumps cost the U.S.
government's Medicare program $172 million between 2006 and
2011, about twice as much as the consumer would have paid at the
retail level, according to a government watchdog's report
released on Monday.
The report by the inspector general for the Department of
Health and Human Services said Medicare, the government health
insurance system for seniors, paid nearly 474,000 claims for
vacuum erection systems, or VES, totaling about $172.4 million
from 2006 to 2011. Yearly claims for the devices nearly doubled
from $20.6 million in 2006 to $38.6 million in 2011.
According to the Mayo Clinic, penis pumps are one of a few
treatment options for erectile dysfunction.
Government waste is a major issue in budget talks in the
U.S. capital as lawmakers try to reach agreement on a $1
trillion spending bill.
"Medicare payment amounts for VES remain grossly excessive
compared with the amounts that non-Medicare payers pay," said
the report, dated December 2013. "Medicare currently pays
suppliers more than twice as much for VES as the Department of
Veterans Affairs and consumers over the Internet pay for these
types of devices."
If Medicare had adjusted its payments to approximately the
price non-Medicare payers pay, the U.S. government would have
saved an average of about $14.4 million for each of the six
years, the report said.
"Considering the strain retiring baby boomers will soon be
placing on Medicare's budget, shouldn't we be focusing this
entitlement program on real, life-saving treatment and equipment
to serve the health needs of seniors - instead of subsidizing
penis pump purchases?" Ben Domenech of the Heartland Institute
think tank said in an email statement.
"And to those seniors who really do want one," added
Domenech, "just buy it yourself - you don't need to send the
bill to your fellow Americans."
(Reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter