School Bans Viagra When 1,000 Teachers Prescribed Erectile Dysfunction Drug

Two years ago, the Milwaukee school district decided that it was more interested in enhancing teacher performance in the classroom than the bedroom.

The district cut Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs like Cialis and Levitra from its health insurance plan, hoping to save $786,000 a year.

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Officials said too many teachers were using the expensive drugs for recreation, swelling their insurance rates. An estimated 1,000 of the 10,000 school's staff, which includes employees, dependents and retirees, were using the drugs.

Now, teachers are fighting to get the benefit back with a lawsuit. The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA) argues that the new policy discriminates unfairly against men and "creates barriers" to receiving necessary medical treatment.

In recent years, several lawsuits have claimed that health plans discriminate against women by not providing contraceptives, but now medications like Viagra -- which can cost $20 a pill -- are being viewed as so-called "lifestyle" drugs.

Drug companies have invested more than $20 billion in research into drugs like weight loss pills, smoking cessation medications, hair restoration products and erectile dysfunction drugs since the 1990s, according to the scientific journal Nature.

But as budgets tighten, federally funded programs like Medicare are dropping their coverage of these expensive drugs and some employers are following suit.

In 2002, Milwaukee's school district agreed to cover six tablets a month. But when the bill skyrocketed to $207,000, the benefit was ended in 2005.

Kris Collett, spokesman for the MTEA, said the union had filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division in 2008, but it was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2009. Now, the union has appealed to the Labor and Industry Review Commission to go forward with the lawsuit.

"The health plan provides medications to women for similar medical conditions, but men are excluded from pharmacy treatment," said Collett, referring to insurance coverage for female sexual dysfunction treatments like vaginal creams, estrogen and anti-bacterial medicine.

The health plan still covers options such as penile pumps and implants, but the union says they are "far less desirable than oral medication," according to the filing.

As sparks fly, even a union-endorsed gubernatorial candidate is getting into the fray. Democrat Tom Barrett, whose wife lost her job as a teacher, has asked the union to drop the lawsuit.

Viagra for Recreation, Not Medicine

"I know you agree there are fewer issues more important to the future of our communities and our state than the education of our children," wrote Barrett in a letter to the MTEA this week. "In tough budgetary times, it's even more essential that we invest our precious education resources wisely."

"As governor I will work to invest more resources to strengthen education in Wisconsin," he wrote. "However, I believe education dollars should be devoted to enhance performance in the classroom."

"The reality is that in other places across the country, millions of school districts are facing enormous budget crunches," said Phil Walzak, spokesman for the Barrett campaign. "Here we have a situation in Milwaukee where 490 teachers were laid off recently causing constraints."

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