HHS IG reports Medicare paying far too much for ... penis pumps

Say, isn’t this the kind of nonsense the IPAB is supposed to prevent? Unless Medicare is saying that penis pumps are totally effective, of course:

Taxpayers paid nearly $175 million for vacuum erection systems (VES), commonly known as “penis pumps,” from 2006 to 2011, according to an inspector general report released on Monday.

And if it’s not bad enough that taxpayers paid for these systems, they also overpaid for them as well:

The federal government paid more than double the retail price for VES, the Department of Health and Human Services IG found. Medicare prices for the systems, the report said, “remain grossly excessive compared with the amounts that non-Medicare payers pay.”

Medicare paid 473,620 VES claims during calendar years 2006 through 2011, according to the IG report.

Frankly, I’m surprised that I’m the first one at Hot Air to grab this story from Lachlan Markay at the Washington Free Beacon. It’s got great potential for a series of double-entendres. Not to inflate anyone’s expectations, of course, but if this post lasts longer than four hours, please consult our website administrator. Lachlan himself notes that “Medicare payments for VES [vacuum erection systems] have swelled in recent years.” Groan.

On a more mature level, this calls into question the entire assumption that government can control costs through central command. The IPAB, authorized within the ObamaCare law, would have the authority to deny payments for services and devices, which Congress would have to override with supermajorities. In this case, though, Congress explicitly granted HHS the authority in 2000 to reduce the reimbursements for VES in an attempt to reduce taxpayer bills for the systems. HHS then authorized CMS to take action … which it never did.  Call that regulatus interruptus.

Are these devices effective treatment for erectile dysfunction? Perhaps, but only for a limited range. Then again, Viagra and Cialis are effective as well, but few if any insurance plans cover those. Unlike birth control medication (in its primary use), VESs and Viagra treat actual physical ailments but mostly remain elective and outside of insurance coverage. Why Medicare pays the bills for these devices is a question some taxpayers might want to ask, but even apart from that, this story says a lot more about regulatory dysfunction than it does about erectile dysfunction. Anyone who believes for more than four hours that the massively complex ObamaCare regimen will decrease that dysfunction and produce more rational outcomes should consult a head doctor immediately.

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