A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Angle’s Shocking – and Misleading – Viagra Claim


A new ad from Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle says that Angle’s opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "voted to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders." That sensational claim hasn’t gotten any more true since the first time we addressed it, shortly after the health care bill was passed.

It’s true that Reid voted to table an amendment that would have barred convicted sex offenders from getting coverage for drugs like Viagra from health plans sold through state-based exchanges. But that measure was one of a series of amendments that Republicans proposed in an effort to delay passage of the health care legislation.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was not intended to counter some provision of the law that provided these drugs to convicted sex offenders. There’s nothing in the legislation that supports, requires or even mentions such prescriptions. It also is true that the Congressional Research Service said that nothing in the health care law would mandate that health plans "limit the type of benefits that can be offered based on the plan beneficiary’s prior criminal convictions." The new law will be just like the old: Convicts who are not in prison, including those convicted of sex offenses, will be able to buy any health plan they choose, some of which may cover drugs that treat erectile dysfunction. And former prisoners will be able to buy plans from the state-administered health exchanges with tax subsidies, if they qualify. The health exchanges aren’t set up yet, so it’s not clear whether Viagra (and similar drugs) will be one of the medications exchange plans cover.

Reid was certainly against the political move behind this amendment — his office released a statement described it as Republicans "throwing a temper tantrum." He and 56 others — all Democrats and one Independent — voted to table the amendment and move on to a vote on the reconciliation bill itself. But it’s a serious leap to conclude that Reid is therefore in favor of sex offender sex enhancement. 

Some of the stalling amendments, including this one, were written so as to be hard for Democrats to vote against without embarrassment. And Reid isn’t the first politician to have the vote used against him. In May, Don Benton, a Republican Senate hopeful from Washington state, made a similar claim about his opponent, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. We wrote that "Murray voted against a Viagra ban, and not explicitly to provide Viagra, as this ad claims." The same is true of Harry Reid.