Yet another remnant of the Clinton legacy
By Michael M. Bates
It began in New York. An official there found that almost 200 of his state's most dangerous sexual predators got Viagra at no expense. Like Blanche DuBois, the paroled felons had depended on the kindness of strangers.
The strangers in this case were taxpayers, who picked up the tab for the little blue pills thorough Medicaid. Yes, Medicaid, that superlative social welfare program from Lyndon Johnson and his War on Poverty. Medicaid is a federal law and mostly funded with dollars from Washington, but is administered individually by each state.
When he was president, Clinton said he hoped that, "the American people will come to understand that Medicaid is not simply a program for poor people."
He was right. Obviously, it's more than that, as least in some jurisdictions. Thanks to him, it's also a program for poor perverts.
We can imagine how the New York story sent elected officials elsewhere and their minions scurrying. Reimbursing convicted sex assailants for their performance enhancement drugs with public funds is one thing. Getting busted for it in the media is quite another.
Other shoes dropped. A quick check by the Associated Press found that more than 800 convicted sex predators in 14 states received Medicaid money for Viagra and similar drugs. One governor issued an emergency order barring Medicaid payments for registered sex offenders. How much of an emergency would it have been if not for the bad press these cases are getting?
Late last month, San Antonio TV station KSAT reported the state attorney general determined that in Texas 191 convicted sex offenders, 128 of them guilty of crimes against children, had obtained Medicaid prescriptions for sexual performance drugs.
Two of the felons committed sex crimes after they got their meds. One attacked a woman, the other assaulted a child.
When a story like the Medicaid-Viagra scandal breaks, it's typical for politicians to denounce such outrages as aberrations from an otherwise perfectly-functioning government program. The fact such outrages and other forms of mismanagement are uncovered repeatedly is ignored.
It's not that the programs themselves are fatally flawed, we are to understand. They just need a little fine-tuning.
Officials have lost little time calling for further investigations into the Medicaid-Viagra scandal. One of the more interesting statements came from New York's Senator Hillary Clinton:
"There is no doubt that the news of sexual offenders receiving Viagra under the Medicaid program is deeply disturbing and runs contrary to the purpose of Medicaid which is to provide health care coverage for uninsured, low-income individuals. The notion that Level 3 sex offenders, those most likely to commit crimes again, have access to this drug, clearly poses safety concerns for the public. I join the calls for (Health and Human Services) Secretary Leavitt to look into this matter as quickly as possible and will explore legislative options to address this issue."
Why I find this interesting is the background of how impotence medications came to be covered under Medicaid in the first place. The Clinton administration — you remember the Clinton administration, two for the price of one, right? — started it all.
According to the New York Times in May of 1998, "The Clinton administration has told state officials that it intends to require their Medicaid programs to pay for medically approved uses of Viagra."
This was only a few months after the Food and Drug Administration had expeditiously approved Viagra. Moreover, the FDA immediately announced its approval of the drug on its website in real time. That had never been done before. In this respect at least you have to hand it to the Clintons: they know how to cut through red tape when essential national interests are involved.
Some state officials grumbled about the Clinton decision to include Viagra as a benefit of Medicaid. Two governors wrote to the White House and argued: "Governors believe that Viagra should be a state option, not a mandate. A Viagra mandate would increase state costs and limit state flexibility."
Keep in mind here that the governors weren't even contemplating the possibility of paying for sex criminals' drugs. They were objecting to Medicaid paying for this and other "lifestyle" medications for anyone.
The response from the Clinton administration was that Medicaid needed to cover all FDA-approved drugs. There were a couple of exceptions, but Viagra wasn't one of them.
Some states apparently ignored that guidance from on high. They were the prudent ones and now aren't having stories written about how they've enabled convicted sex felons.
And Senator Clinton explores "legislative options to address this issue." In other words, pass a law to correct a mess created by the Family Clinton in the first place.
His legacy continues. So does her makeover.
Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This essay appeared in the June 2, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.
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