Live

Watch CBSN Live

Feds Close Viagra Loophole

A federal agency has begun notifying all 50 states that they don't have to offer Medicaid-funded Viagra to sex offenders, a step taken after it was discovered that more than 400 convicted sex offenders in New York and Florida were reimbursed for the erectile dysfunction drug.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acted swiftly Monday, one day after the New York comptroller's office said audits from 2000 through March found that 198 rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in the state received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions.

Their crimes included offenses against children as young as 2, Comptroller Alan Hevesi said. The report sent the Bush administration scrambling to find a way to close the loophole.

"The bottom line is, giving convicted sex offenders government-funded Viagra is like giving convicted murderers an assault rifle when they get out of jail," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Auditors did not review situations in other states, but Hevesi's spokesman, David Neustadt, said policies on Viagra under the health care program for the poor and elderly are apparently the same nationwide.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist noted that Medicaid has paid $93,000 to provide Viagra to 218 sex offenders in that state over the last four years.

Gary Karr, spokesman for the federal Health and Human Services Department, said confusion over a 1998 federal directive apparently resulted in Medicaid-paid Viagra for sex offenders.

In a letter Sunday to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, Hevesi requested administrative action or an amendment to the Medicaid law. "It's great that the federal government has responded immediately," he 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, praised the government's move as "the most proactive measure they can take to ensure that individual states can legislate what their values are."

The New York audit covered only Viagra. State auditors are reviewing whether other prescription drugs for sexual dysfunction are being reimbursed by Medicaid for convicted sex offenders in the state, officials said.

View CBS News In