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House votes to ban Medicare, Medicaid payments for Viagra-type drugs

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Government Health Care

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House voted overwhelmingly Friday to ban Medicare and Medicaid from paying for erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra.

The 285-121 vote came on an amendment attached to a giant spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the two health insurance programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

The spending bill also includes language that would prevent rapists and other sex offenders from getting government-paid erectile dysfunction drugs.

The amendment was offered by conservative Iowa Republican Steve King who argues it is inappropriate for the government to fund lifestyle drugs.

A recent Congressional Budget Office study found that if the laws are not changed, the government will spend $2 billion over the next decade on such drugs, according to King's office.

When he introduced the his proposal in February, King said, "The thought of Medicare wasting vital resources on performance-enhancing drugs is unconscionable, especially at a time when the focus should be on providing life-saving medications for truly needy seniors. Seniors should never be denied life-saving drugs at the cost of providing non-essential drugs for others."

In floor debate, Republican Nancy Johnson of Connecticut argued the government should continue to cover the drugs.

She said they are often medically necessary -- commonly prescribed to prostate cancer patients. She argued erectile dysfunction can be a precursor to more serious health problems that might not be detected if people decide not to go to the doctor because such drugs are not covered.

She also argued good sexual health can be a key to a successful long-term marriage.

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