In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision allowing religious exemptions to providing contraceptives to women, a popular progressive rejoinder is: “But they cover Viagra!”

If this is supposed to be a hypocrisy gotcha, it’s a muddled one. Banning contraception and promoting a fertility aid seem entirely consistent. But let’s go past that and consider the deeper message.

The subtext of “But they cover Viagra!” is that American men enjoy bountiful and perhaps unwarranted access to Erectile Dysfunction treatment.

The bountiful part is entirely untrue, and the unwarranted aspect depends on whether one thinks sex involving one or more males can be a worthwhile activity that should be supported by health policy.

As usual, in a teachable moment in American politics, the wrong lesson is taught.

* * *

Denying women access to family-planning capabilities, especially on blatantly patriarchal grounds, is an abomination that impinges on their personhood, health, and pursuit of happiness.

For some reason, though, progressives didn’t propagate a catchy meme when Barack Obama fought (in vain, thankfully), to bar minor girls’ access to Plan B contraception.

They also raised little fuss about Obama’s unilateral banning of federal funds for poor women’s abortions, a bargaining chip for a healthcare-access policy that has religious exemptions baked right in. “Jury is still out on Trump”.

From healthcare.gov:

Under certain circumstances, you won’t have to make the individual responsibility payment. This is called an “exemption.” You may qualify for an exemption if… you’re a member of a recognized religious sect with religious objections to insurance, including Social Security and Medicare, additional religious exemptions have been sprinkled on top, in advance of the Hobby Lobby decision.

* * *

What the “But they cover Viagra!” trope won’t tell you is that men with Erectile Dysfunction (and their mates) are also denied access to sexual-health treatments under this healthcare-access model.

Sexual dysfunction can have devastating effects on relationships and on both partners’ feelings of self-worth, and thus ED drugs can be liberating to many men and their partners.

However, it’s great sport among Democrats to mock those at variance from normative virility… whether it’s Larry Craig’s “wide stance,” the dubiously sourced rumors of David Vitter’s having a diaper fetish, or Rush Limbaugh’s reported Viagra pills. And Bob Dole was the subject of constant ridicule when he was a pioneering promoter of ED medication.

Putting aside the cheap risibility in favor of empathetically considering the impact of Erectile Dysfunction on men and their partners is a tough sell. With America’s for-profit insurance model, it’s a tough buy, as well.

* * *

Many Americans have no health insurance, and from the outset, insurers have been stingy with authorization to those diagnosed with Erectile Dysfunction, if those plans cover ED medicine at all.

Many insurance companies don’t cover these so-called “lifestyle drugs,” and those that do only pay[] for four pills a month.

If you or your partner would like to use these scientific advances to maintain potency, you can have sex only as often as corporate bureaucrats say you’re entitled to… unless you have scads of discretionary cash.

* * *

According to WebMD:

Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, Stendra, and Viagra work by a similar mechanism to cause erections.
Let’s look into what the first drug in the list costs citizens whose sexual health could benefit from it.

It’s difficult to locate and link to accurate pricing of prescription medicines, especially in the world of online ED drug sales, which is teeming with fraud, as heir apparent to the old “Spanish fly,” offering placebos or Christ-knows-what to poor dupes—scams that launched a zillion spam messages.

This site provides actual prescription drug price information for my home state.

30 (i.e., about once daily per month) 20mg Cialis costs about $1,061 in the Boston area, or about $35 per tablet.

If your insurance allows for 4 tablets with a co-pay, and again many insurance plans won’t pay for these drugs at all, it will cost a tad under a grand a month for daily use.

The first few major health insurance plans I found via Google search said they didn’t or may not cover Cialis. Those that do cover it require copays even for those small numbers of authorized pills, and brand-name drug copays are typically $40 or more.

The ABC News says, “Out of pocket, [Viagra pills] cost $12 to $15 a tablet, not exactly a cheap thrill.”

At that price a daily dose would be $360-$450 per month, but according to the MA drug-price site, it would actually cost $983.36/month for either 25mg or the “recommended” 50mg doses, about $33/day, with no information available on the price of 100mg Viagra.

Maybe you don’t seek ED treatment 30 days a month, or maybe a smaller (and thus possibly cheaper) dose will do.

But the principle remains the same: our current health-access system impinges on everyone’s sexual health and freedom.

* * *

ED medication isn’t necessarily an unalloyed good, which could be said of birth control pills and devices as well. There can be medical and other side-effects to using them. But decisions on access to them are in the hands of people who shouldn’t make those decisions.

There is also the subject of the research incentives and price-setting power of drug companies. How do we get them to invest in new cures and not to charge exploitively when their research bears fruit? Or do we increasingly or wholly replace the research-for-profit model with a social-good model?

By whatever financial model medicines are invented and manufactured, there is no virtue in having a parasitic, profit-seeking choke point between their making and their prospective use. National health policy could change the drug-development model dramatically, but with or without such change, allowing employers and insurers to play God with our reproductive life is demeaning and harmful, no matter which gender’s treatments are curtailed.

* * *

What we have here are two wayward, government-coddled institutions—religion and corporations—sticking their noses where they don’t belong.

By tradition, we can’t and don’t say “of course religion is founded on mambo jumbo, and it’s rife with misogynistic and homophobic rules.” Even many skeptics pooh-pooh having a national dialogue that admits that religion is malarkey at its core and therefore should have absolutely zero standing in matters such as reproductive rights.

So, we constrain ourselves to occasional potshots at easy targets like the Phelps Family or Hobby Lobby, and distract ourselves with irrelevancies like “Look, over there, someone got Viagra!”

If we did away with, or at least chipped away at, the cultural norm that insists religion is a sacred function we simply have to respect, religious exemptions for such matters as reproductive rights would be seen in a more accurate light.

And with Obamacare, employers and insurance profiteers are further institutionalized as gatekeepers for all manner of medical needs, with reproductive-health benefits a particular target.

Americans who want fair access to health treatments may wish away this cruel bottleneck, but our president does not:

I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors.

The scope of this problem, corporate control over healthcare access, of course extends far beyond reproductive-related medicine. Alas, outrage over Hobby Lobby has largely not been channeled into support for a real solution: single-payer or nationalized medicine, which would take employers and insurance profiteers out of the equation.

Article provided by: Tom Perkins

 

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