Tax Dollars at Work

First the good news: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is all over the bureaucratic SNAFU that allowed convicted sex offenders to receive Viagra and other sex-enhancing drugs through the state's Medicaid program. State Senator Florence Shapiro has agreed to attach an amendment drafted by the AG's office to another bill she is sponsoring. If it passes this week, the loophole that allowed nearly 200 registered sex offenders to receive Viagra using your tax dollars will be closed.

The bad news is, of course, that nearly 200 assorted deviants got the drug in the first place.

"Giving Viagra to a convicted sex offender is akin to handing a can of gasoline to an arsonist and lighting the match," Abbott said in a press release. Actually, it's more like providing bullets to an armed robber, but we get his point.

Abbott also is asking the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to change Medicaid rules and is seeking to make it a condition of probation that rapists, child molesters, etc. not use tax funding for penis pills.

Which is good. Thank you, Mr. Abbott. Still, Buzz couldn't help but ask a couple of questions: How did 200 sex offenders get state-sponsored Viagra, and why does it take all this effort to stop an obviously dumb practice?

You can thank federal Medicaid rules for the loophole that allowed the mistake to happen, and you can thank an unwieldy bureaucracy for the effort needed to close it. (The loophole was discovered by officials in New York.)

"I don't think it would have occurred to anyone this could have happened," says Angela Hale, communications director for the attorney general's office. In other words, it's just too bizarre to anticipate. It's also a hard mistake to catch, unless you're looking for it. Doctors and pharmacists handling the prescriptions, or Medicaid officials doing the paperwork, would have to cross-reference registered sex offenders lists with patient names to catch Viagra-buying sex offenders on Medicaid.

That's what Abbott's office did to come up with the "nearly 200" number, and it's likely what will have to be done in some fashion to prevent such mistakes in the future. But until the Legislature acts or the rules change--that's likely to happen this week--offenders who qualify for Medicaid are still eligible for state-financed Viagra. Buzz's advice: Stock up.

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