'No Viagra' rule is for your own good


CITING a grave and selfless concern for the safety of their 11.2 million precious customers, Prudential HealthCare and Humana Inc., two of the greatest names in health coverage, have decided not to pay for Viagra prescriptions.

How touching that such mercenary, profit-driven behemoths should bother to care whether or not their clients copulate to death. I should have thought these stern-hearted bean counters would have encouraged Viagra usage as a way of saying good riddance to bad risks. Drooling old amorists who don't perish in ecstasy will now be condemned to live on -- and to die of some ghastly, lingering, expensive-to-treat illness the cost of which far exceeds the $10 it takes to pop a single Viagra.

The right to choose

And shame on Oxford Health Plans Inc., which says it will continue to reimburse members for as many as six Viagra orgies a month on the theory, I guess, that the $60 can easily be costed out plan-wide so it will barely show on the bills of its sexually unimpaired customers. Isn't it wonderful that Americans still have a choice? Unlike people in so many less fortunate lands -- horrible, unhealthy places like Canada -- they can go shopping in the great private health-care market where the CEOs lie awake at night thinking up ways to make their customers healthier, where everybody knows the interests of shareholders come second to the health of patients.

But there I go again, being facetious about something as deadly serious as health care. I plead guilty, but never as guilty as the howlers that pass for medical statesmanship and "patients' rights" in the increasingly perverted health-care debate. The people at Humana and Prudential kept straight faces when they declared that safety, not cost, was the reason they cut off the Viagra to their plan members. They will just have to pardon the rest of us while we die laughing.

Blindness to equation

What a spiteful and ungrateful nation we have become that we don't cherish these benevolent health-care dictators out there on the front lines to save us from greedy doctors, wealth-seeking nurses, Dickensian hospitals and profit-crazed drug manufacturers who'd otherwise spend the country bankrupt to keep us healthy. And how blind we've become to the simple arithmetic of the health-care equation, which has come down to a series of naked power struggles among those who divide up our health-care dollars.

I presume we are supposed to sit back and watch capitalism work its way as it does in all private industries. Natural competitive tensions will weed out the weak players and leave some dead bodies as free markets work to make a more rational, efficient, cost-effective, choice-driven system. The problem is, of course, that since we're dealing with health care -- and not such successfully reconfigured industries as steel, automobiles or railroads -- some of the dead bodies will be real dead bodies.

Now the health-care lobby is preparing new TV commercials -- similar in puerility to the Harry and Louise skits that helped sink reform in 1994 -- to head off new reform moves. One thing is certain. The process of reform will not be a rational undertaking but a series of lurches toward Band-Aid solutions that create new problems to be lurched toward.

Robert Reno is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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