Why is the government spending millions on penis pumps?

Austin Powers isn't the only fan of penis pumps.
Austin Powers isn’t the only fan of penis pumps.
Credit: YouTube

This is a real thing: The U.S. government spent $172 million between 2006 and 2011 on Medicare claims for penis pumps.

Penis pumps.

$172 million.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

How can this be true, you ask? When you think of government spending, bail-outs and war might come to mind — but penis pumps?

According to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare, which is government healthcare for the nation’s seniors, is shelling out more and more for vacuum erection systems (VES). In case you’re not familiar, those are plastic cylinders with a pressurized pump system that are used to treat erectile dysfunction.

Here’s a scientific explanation of how it works, according to Cornell:

Once a decision has been made to pursue sexual relations, water-soluble jelly is applied to the base of the penis. This maneuver prevents air from seeping into the chamber, by creating a water-tight seal, thus maintaining the negative pressure within the cylinder. Some men may find that trimming the pubic hair may aid achieving this water-tight seal. Once the cylinder has been placed over the penile shaft and held firmly against the pubic bone, the pump mechanism can be activated (either by hand or battery). Slow generation of the negative pressure prevents penile pain due to too rapid a build-up of pressure within the cylinder. The negative pressure causes an inflow of blood into the corporal bodies, both arterial and venous in nature. The latter blood is drawn into the erectile chambers in a retrograde fashion.

From 2006 to 2011, Medicare covered 474,000 claims for VES, which came to $172.4 billion. By 2011, those claims had nearly double, as reported by Reuters. To make matters even harder on taxpayers (apologies for the pun), Medicare is paying much more for these devices than their typical retail value — nearly twice as much of what they cost to purchase online.

“Considering the strain retiring baby boomers will soon be placing on Medicare’s budget, shouldn’t we be focusing this entitlement program on real, life-saving treatment and equipment to serve the health needs of seniors – instead of subsidizing penis pump purchases?” Ben Domenici of the Heartland Institute think tank said, according to Reuters.

He added, “And to those seniors who really do want one, just buy it yourself – you don’t need to send the bill to your fellow Americans.”


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