Cover impotence drugs, too

Letter to the editor

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2004

I question the facts presented by J.J. Vollenweider regarding prescription coverage for Viagra. As an oncology nurse for more than 20 years in Juneau, I have cared for many men with prostate cancer. The most recent statistics available for cancer incidence rates were 161.9 cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 individuals, as opposed to 138.4 cases of breast cancer per 100,000 individuals. Based on my experience, I believe that men with prostate cancer do not have sufficient insurance coverage for the comprehensive, quality care they need and deserve.

While I strongly support and have fought for all treatments for women with breast cancer and support efforts to ensure insurance coverage for contraceptives, I am concerned that too few health plans in Alaska provide coverage for Viagra, Levitra and Cialis for men with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is a devastating diagnosis. Many men delay or refuse treatment due to the potential side effects of incontinence and impotence. It is comparable to a woman facing a mastectomy. Men who have been treated for prostate cancer generally have some level of sexual dysfunction. Usually it is inability to have an erection. Viagra and like drugs increase the flow of blood to damaged nerves to promote healing. Research studies show that men who take Viagra daily for 6 months have better return to normal function following cancer treatment. However, Viagra costs about $15 per pill. Who can afford this valuable treatment?

I checked with pharmacies in Southeast Alaska and was told that more contraceptive prescriptions are covered by insurance than prescriptions for Viagra. The state of Alaska insurance does not pay for Viagra - even when it is prescribed for a prostate cancer patient. The state does pay for contraceptives. In the Lower 48, insurance pays about 50 percent of prescriptions for Viagra and about 33 percent of prescriptions for contraceptives. We need to improve insurance payment for both Viagra and contraceptives in Alaska.

Viagra is not a recreational drug. It is a major breakthrough for men with prostate cancer. It is a healing medication. I would also suggest that this just might be a drug that is equally important to the women who love the men with prostate cancer for it gives them the hope of resuming a normal sex life. I would also assert that men are the cancer patients that have substandard insurance coverage.

I support insurance coverage and payment for contraceptives. However, I am angered by attempts to get this coverage by presenting false information about Viagra coverage. Let's work together to improve insurance coverage for both men and women.

Carole S. Edwards


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