Monday 11 December 2017

Cost of Viagra for medical card holders rises to €20m

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

MEDICAL card holders have cost the taxpayer almost €20m since 2008 to boost their sex life through subscriptions of Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction, it has emerged.

A serious condition for middle-aged and elderly men, there has been a dramatic increase in the cost of treating erectile dysfunction through Viagra and other drugs for medical card holders.

According to the latest figures, the spend on medicines like Viagra and Cialis for medical card holders in 2008 was €3,457,461. But the latest available figures show the spend rose dramatically to €5,831,544 in 2009 and, by 2010, had almost doubled to €6,314,220

The cost of such drugs are expected to come under fresh scrutiny given the budget overruns in the health sector, with the total overrun for the HSE topping €500m, according to CEO Tony O'Brien.

Green Party councillor and member of the HSE West Forum, Brian Meaney, yesterday questioned the spend at a time when life and death choices are having to be made in terms of cuts.

"We have to cut our cloth to measure. I first raised this issue when cuts were being made to cervical cancer treatment. How does it make sense to make cuts to life and death services and retain those which are simply quality of life treatments? It is about priorities," he said.

However, Fianna Fail's health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, said erectile dysfunction is a serious medical condition and could not be dismissed a mere "quality of life issue".

"Many people take Viagra and other medicines to allow them to start a family. We have to be conscious of those difficulties before we rush into cutting it," he added.

The HSE has said the amount of tablets available to medical card patients has been limited to four tablets a month to ensure the system is not being abused.

"To ensure availability for genuine need, but to reduce the possibility of inappropriate usage, the expert group advised that the maximum reimbursable level on the GMS and Community Drugs Schemes be set at four tablets a month," a HSE spokeswoman said.

Typically, the ingredient cost for four tablets is in the region of €25 to €30. Generic equivalents can only be made available when a product is out of patent protection, she added.

The famous blue Viagra pill is also prescribed for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), and it is not possible to quantify how much is for treating erectile dysfunction or PAH, the HSE said.

HSE figures show Limerick city and county has the highest public spend on Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs in the HSE West area.

The spend on erectile dysfunction drugs increased by 13 per cent in the HSE West area that stretches from Donegal to Limerick in 2010.

The figures also show that the highest proportion of recipients of the drugs were in the 55 to 64 age category, accounting for 29 per cent, or €412,834, of the total spend in 2010.

There has been a percentage increase in the spend by those over 75 purchasing Viagra, accounting for 10 per cent, or €145,841, compared to a 7 per cent share in 2008.

Viagra and Cialis are the market leaders, and both drugs regularly feature on the HSE's top 100 most commonly dispensed drugs. The figures show that the spend on the erectile dysfunction drugs in Limerick represents 22.8 per cent of the amount spent on the drugs in the HSE West Area.

Among the causes of erectile dysfunction are arterial narrowing caused by high blood pressure and high cholesterol, smoking, overeating and lack of exercise.

Diabetes and reduced testosterone levels can also cause problems, as can depression, anxiety and stress.

Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to erectile dysfunction.

Sunday Independent

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