Monday, December 22nd, 2014
Pants on Fire!
American Action Network
Ed Perlmutter voted for "Viagra for rapists" paid for with tax dollars.

American Action Network on Thursday, October 21st, 2010 in a campaign ad

Ed Perlmutter voted for Viagra for sex offenders, paid for by health care bill? Nope

The American Action Network ad on Viagra for sex offenders.

A new campaign ad makes the startling claim that the new health care law will pay for Viagra for rapists -- and that Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., voted for the measure.

The ad shows two young women chatting online about the new health care bill. Here's how their conversation goes:

"Hey, you have to check out the article I just sent you. Apparently convicted rapists can get Viagra paid for by the new health care bill."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes. I mean, Viagra for rapists? With my tax dollars? And Congressman Perlmutter voted for it."

"Perlmutter voted for it?"

"Yup. I mean, what is going on in Washington?"

"In November, we need to tell Perlmutter to repeal it."

The ad is from American Action Network, a conservative advocacy group organized as a 501(c)4, which means it does not have to disclose its donors. Its chief executive officer is Norm Coleman, a former Republican Senator from Minnesota. Its president is Rob Collins, a former chief of staff to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

Perlmutter did vote in favor of final passage of the health care law. But did Perlmutter vote for Viagra for rapists? The short answer is no.

Here's the long version:

The health care law affects nearly every part of the health care system. It increases regulations for health insurance companies, reins in future costs in the Medicare program for seniors, expands the Medicaid program for the poor and creates new tax breaks so that individuals and small businesses can purchase insurance with partial government subsidies.

It's this last measure that health care opponents have connected back to Viagra for sex offenders. Starting in 2014, some people will get tax credits to help them buy insurance policies. The credits are available to anyone who qualifies by having an income of between 133 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four in 2010, that ranges from $29,327 to $88,200, and for a single person, it's $14,403 to $43,320. They'll have to buy their policies through government-sponsored exchanges, which will set rules so that insurers offer standardized policies.

During the final negotiations for the health care law in the Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pointed out that because anyone can qualify for the tax breaks, it's possible that sex offenders will buy insurance policies with government subsidies. And they might ask for and be prescribed Viagra. That means tax dollars will be subsidizing Viagra for sex offenders, Coburn concluded.

It's actually an issue that's come up before, though in a different context. In 2005, the federal government had to direct states to make sure that sex offenders were not being prescribed Viagra while on Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program for the poor. (Press reports indicated it was happening.) During the 2010  debate, Coburn asked the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service about whether the health care law had any specific clause to prevent similar problems. The service issued a memo concluding that it did not.


So Coburn offered an amendment that would "reduce the cost of providing federally funded prescription drugs by eliminating fraudulent payments and prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists and for drugs intended to induce abortion."

But by the time the Senate took up the amendment on March 24, 2010, it was late in the process. The bill's sponsors said any changes, no matter how small, could effectively kill the bill, so they opposed Coburn's amendment for procedural reasons. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., urged his colleagues to reject the amendment, saying, "This is a serious bill. This is a serious debate. The amendment offered by the senator from Oklahoma makes a mockery of the Senate, the debate and the American people... It is a crass political stunt aimed at making 30-second commercials, not public policy." The amendment failed, 57-42, and the president signed the law six days later. Now, nearly seven months later, the commercial has turned up.

We want to emphasize that the Viagra amendment came up in the Senate. Perlmutter is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He never got the chance to vote one way or the other on the amendment. 

The Perlmutter campaign was not amused by the ad's claims, calling them "blatant lies."

"It's so illogical it would be like saying the bill allows Martians masquerading as humans to see a proctologist," said spokeswoman Leslie Oliver in a statement. 

American Action Campaign e-mailed a factsheet that says by virtue of voting for final passage for the health care bill that did not include the anti-Viagra amendment, he was voting for Viagra. The ad itself flashes an editorial from the Washington Times, headlined "Obamacare's Viagra giveaway." The editorial said the Senate should have voted for the Viagra amendment and questioned whether Democrats were sincere in their procedural objections.

We should note that the use of taxpayer dollars for sex-offender Viagra remains a hypothetical. While CRS concluded that there was nothing in the current law to stop it from happening, the earliest it could start is in 2014 -- so there's time for lawmakers to act or for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to write regulations to stop it from happening.

Finally, whatever taxpayer subsidies for sex offenders might materialize after 2014, they would not go to all sex offenders -- only to sex offenders who get health care through the exchanges and who also qualify for subsidies.

We've looked at similar claims made against U.S. senators and rated the claims Barely True. But this claim is different. The House never voted on the sex offenders amendment. Perlmutter never voted on it either. So we rate the statement the statement Pants on Fire.