A recent review of Medicare costs by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) found that Medicare is grossly overpaying for its penis pumps.

Between 2006 and 2011, Medicare beneficiaries purchased over 473,000 penis pumps at an average cost of $451 per pump - that's $172 million. In contrast, private insurers and the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid less than half that for equivalent pumps. If they were purchased at the lower price, taxpayers would have saved over $14 million per year. Patients would have saved almost $4 million. For Medicare to start paying a more reasonable cost for the pumps, congress needs to declare that we can purchase them through the competitive bidding program. That's a specific conversation that needs to be held in Washington: Penis Pumps.

Congress barred Medicare from covering pharmaceutical treatments of erectile dysfunction back in 2006 and many people adopted the penis pump as a kind of non-medical viagra. Technically known as a vacuum erection system, it draws blood into the penis creating an errection. It's awkward and bulky and can't exactly be tucked in your pocket, but it gets the job done.

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Medicare does cover vaginal estrogen, a medication used to treat dyspareunia in women. This pain during intercourse is frequently due to vaginal atrophy, a natural part of aging. It is the closest analogous condition women have to erectile dysfunction and, for now, Medicare is paying for a pharmaceutical treatment rather than just telling women to use lubricant.

So here's the question many are asking: should Medicare be covering this in the first place? Should our tax money really be going to helping lecherous baby boomers have sex? A lot of people would say no. There is a push to eliminate coverage for the pumps altogether. More reasonable people might say what's the point of keeping people alive if they're not able to enjoy it?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that guarantees coverage to adults over the age of 65 and young people with certain disabilities and diseases. The program is in place not just to save lives, but to improve the health of enrollees. It's to fix parts of your body that are not functioning as they should. Including penises. A healthy sex life is, for many, part of being healthy and happy. Medicare should not be paying the current high price for penis pumps - but at a competitive price, they are a valid use of government health care funds.

There's a lot ageist nonsense going on around this on various websites along with some incredibly vile comments about the elderly and intercourse. I don't need to link to them, you can use your imagination. Regardless of what those people like to think, more than 50% of men and 40% of women over the age of 60 are sexually active. I don't like thinking of my grandparents and their friends having sex any more than you do, but I'm not going to let the fact that it makes me uncomfortable (profound understatement) dictate federal funding.


[if you were curious, penis pumps can also be purchased online for significantly lower cost (the top seller on Amazon is priced at $12 - you should click it if only to read the item description. It's SFW although maybe not for HR.]

As a complete aside, seniors have low rates of condom use and rates of sexually transmitted diseases are relatively common in this community. Feel free to do your part and talk up condoms and sexual health with your friendly neighborhood elderly folk.

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[I apologize for the headline. I really truly do. I have literally no excuse other than that I'm a sucker for an obvious pun.]

(image courtesy of destinationsdreamsanddogs - it's what popped up when I googled "elderly happy")