Penis pumps, also known as “vacuum erection systems,” have cost the Medicare program $172 million over a six-year period, according to a report released Monday, descriptively titled: "Medicare Payments for Vacuum Erection Systems Are More Than Twice As Much As the Amounts Paid for the Same or Similar Devices by Non-Medicare Payers."

Medicare, which is a federal health insurance program for seniors and certain younger people with disabilities, covers health care services including medical supplies. The report, released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General, found that the government has been paying more than twice what those who are privately insured pay for penis pumps between 2006 and 2011. “While Medicare strives to pay appropriately for items and services … CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) does not currently have the authority to subject this equipment to competitive bidding,” a statement from a CMS spokesperson said, according to The Washington Times.

Penis pumps are used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction occurs when a man can no longer sustain an erection adequate for sexual intercourse. The condition is more common among older men because as men get older, it sometimes takes longer for them to develop an erection. But men should not expect for their penises to simply stop functioning as they get older. According to the Mayo Clinic, erectile dysfunction is usually a symptom of an underlying health problem. Those problems include diabetes, anxiety, heart conditions, and nerve damage.  A variety of treatments exist that can address erectile dysfunction. They include oral medications like Viagra, self-injection drugs, penis implants, and, of course, vacuum erection systems.

Vacuum erection systems are hollow tubes that are placed over the penis and create a vacuum that pulls blood into the penis. Once enough blood flows into the penis, a man gets an erection that can be sustained long enough for sexual intercourse, usually with the help of a tension ring around the base of the penis. Since erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, it’s no wonder why a portion of Medicare funding goes towards penis pumps. But the amount that the government is paying for the devices may not be fair to taxpayers. 

“Anytime that Medicare pays twice as much for any piece of equipment or any item for which it provides coverage, then taxpayers should be concerned,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, according to the Times.

The report suggests that decreasing the amount Medicare pays for penis pumps by simply paying what non-Medicare patients pay could save the government about $18 million annually and save Medicare beneficiaries $4.5 million annually. In addition, the report recommends having a more comprehensive review of what services and medical supplies are covered by Medicare.