Government Waste: DoD Spends $41.6 Million of Taxpayer Money on Viagra in 2014

Is this how we should "Support the Troops?"

Government Waste: DoD Spends $41.6 Million of Taxpayer Money on Viagra in 2014
March 2, 2015

Online reports surfaced in early February stating that the Department of Defense (DoD) spent over half a million dollars – $504,816 to be exact – to purchase Viagra for the military. Another $14,540 was spent on Cialis and another $3,505 on Levitra, all drugs designed to combat erectile dysfunction (ED).

Subsequent reports showed that these figures were drastically understated. According to the Defense Health Agency (DHA), the Pentagon really spent $41.6 million on Viagra in 2014, and a bit over $84 million on all ED drugs in 2014. Since 2011, the total tab for these drugs is $294 million.

Go ahead and get the jokes out of your system. We are going to try to resist.

Are you all finished? Good – now let’s take a closer look at the story.

The original reporting focused on contracts to one particular outlet, but there are far more outlets that dispense ED drugs to military members and covered retirees. These outlets are not always through military hospitals and clinics; distribution through the mail and even at retail outlets is included. DHA and Express Scripts, DHA’s contracted pharmacy benefits manager, oversee the process.

In 2014, almost 1.18 million prescriptions were filled via DHA/Express Scripts for those eligible under military coverage – including retirees and family members. Active-duty troops only accounted for a little under 10% of the prescriptions, totaling around $7.2 million.

Granted, this sounds outrageous and gives bad stereotypical sitcom images of generals running amuck at officers' clubs and swinging times at the VA home (sorry for that image). However, this may not be as outrageous as it sounds.

Cases of ED have more than doubled over the last ten years among active duty personnel. Meanwhile, an increasing number of recent vets are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other psychological disorders requiring the use of antidepressants – and ED is a potential side effect of antidepressant use.

Without more information, we cannot automatically make the assumption that ED medication is being overprescribed. We do not have the medical background or the authority to say otherwise, but it is fair to question whether the overall costs are reasonable. Like most military spending, the bigger question may not be whether items are really necessary. Often the real issue is how much the Pentagon is paying for them.

Using Viagra as an example, the 905,083 prescriptions issued in 2014 cost $41.6 million or approximately $46 per prescription – not an obvious overcharge. Without more detailed information on the dosage vs. prices and the outlet costs, it is difficult to tell whether the Pentagon is overpaying given their purchase quantities – but based on past purchasing history, it would not be a huge surprise.

DoD appears to think so; they have been pushing programs to lower prescription costs overall by seeking lower-cost distribution options (although one would think negotiating a better contract with Express Scripts might be the place to start).

Meanwhile, given the subject matter and Congress’ love for investigations, how can this not end up in a Congressional inquiry? We can see the warning to the military now:

“If you experience oversized expenditures for over four years, stop your spending immediately and call your Congressional Oversight committee. Prolonged overspending could result in excessive debt and permanent damage to your budget.”

Sorry, we couldn’t resist. At least we didn’t mention Speaker of the House John Boehner!

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