Do Teachers Really Need Viagra?

I just got off the phone with the people who administer the health insurance plan for the San Diego Public Schools. They told me that the plan that covers teachers here does cover drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. According to one of the largest health insurers in the nation, Aetna, that is unusual because most standard drug plans exclude those kinds of drugs for lifestyle or performance enhancement.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin this issue is triggering a huge and noisy legal battle.

The Milwaukee school district is hemorrhaging money and has been cutting staff, closing schools, cutting after-school programs and it is threatening to cut teachers just to make ends meet. One of the things that had to be adjusted is the health insurance plan for the district teachers. In order to save money, benefits were cut and one of the things cut was the reimbursement for drugs like Viagra. By cutting these erectile enhancement drugs from the program, the taxpayers saved nearly $800,000.

Now, the teacher's union memberS says they want their Viagra back. The union has hired lawyers to sue the district claiming that taking away this benefit discriminates against men. The union says, Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and others are a necessary treatment for an “exclusively gender-related condition.”

The outcry in Milwaukee is very loud. One lawmaker there is wondering why, at a time when the district is trying to prevent the layoffs of hundreds of teachers, would the teachers choose to take a stand on erectile dysfunction. The quote from State Representative Jason Fields is memorable. He said, “You've got to be kidding me. What are our priorities? I'm all for love and peace. But almost 1 million dollars? And you are going to court over this issue?”

The lawyers for the union say this is not frivolous. Men face serious health problems and erectile dysfunction is associated with prostate and heart problems and is a legitimate way to spend health care money.

Now, the entire budget for schools in Milwaukee is $1.3 billion, so this million dollar battle over Viagra is just a tiny portion of the bigger pie. But, the union says it's about fairness for men. It says the health plan covers vaginal cream, estrogen replacement medication and other drugs for women and the lawsuit is about discrimination.

Aren't you glad to know that here in San Diego, this is not an issue. As we found out, male teachers here get their erectile drugs paid for as part of the health plan. It's something, though; you might not want to bring up at the next parent-teacher conference.

Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook