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Maxine Berman

Maxine Berman

The Michigan Seven

November 2, 2012

I’m a pretty big sports fan and one of my favorite reads is the Detroit Free Press page called “Michigan Six.” Here you get a quick column about each of Detroit’s professional teams as well as Michigan and Michigan State athletics.

But for many months, that page has become the “Michigan Seven” with a new column in the lower left corner: an ad for erectile dysfunction. And a group of doctors in Novi are so sure their medicine will work that they are offering free doses to the first thirty-seven callers! These are custom blends! They help men as old as ninety-four!

Erectile dysfunction must be pretty pervasive, not to mention great business: in my weekly four and a half hour round trip to Central Michigan University, I hear a minimum of ten ads for new treatments for erectile dysfunction. And I only listen to all news channels. I can only guess how many I’d hear listening to all sports channels.

Seriously, did you know that Code Red 7 works in seven seconds? As one man in the ad says, “I looked down in seven seconds and HOLY COW!”

I don’t know how good these products are. Nor do I know if there’s much difference between them and Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, though I have my doubts about Cialis because I hardly know anyone who has two bathtubs in his backyard.

Anyway, the real reason I bring all this up is because, call me crazy, I have always made a connection between erectile dysfunction drugs and birth control in terms of insurance coverage. When Viagra first came on the market, insurance companies and businesses providing prescription drug coverage rushed to include it in their options. Because of federal law, state Medicaid payments followed quickly: No Erection Left Behind. (The requirement was due to wording in the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1990. Medicare Part D does not cover erectile dysfunction drugs and the mandate to states was dropped in 2006.)

Birth control, however, was a whole different story. While many large companies did cover it, many others did not. The rationale has always been that erectile dysfunction is a medical condition while preventing pregnancy is not. There seems to be no acknowledged link between drugs for men which can cause a pregnancy and drugs for women which can prevent one.

This year we’ve been treated to a new and often troubling attack on contraception for women. Unmarried woman who want birth control coverage are sluts, yet similar smears do not seem to apply to unmarried men who want coverage for Viagra. And many men, in particular, are enraged by the fact that birth control is now a required benefit, with no copay, under Obamacare.

But here’s the thing, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 93% of married women of child-bearing age use contraception which means that we are really paying for a wife and husband’s birth control. Controlling the number and spacing of children is basically an economic decision. Pregnancies and birth cost a lot more than birth control. And by the way, 63% of at-risk Catholic and 74% of at-risk evangelical women also use birth control.

Is economics the issue for the 82% of sexually active, never-married women who use birth control? For many, certainly. For others, it is simply wanting to avoid pregnancy –a desire certainly shared by their partners.

And then there are those who are outraged that the government wants all women covered for birth control, including those working for religious affiliated institutions. The coverage would not be paid for by the institution itself, nor did the mandate ever apply to the churches, synagogues, and mosques themselves. Most of those affiliated institutions –hospitals, social service agencies, colleges– receive millions in tax dollars in order to function. They cannot exist on church funds alone.

On the other hand, many of those churches do cover and support erectile dysfunction drugs because erections are needed to produce birth. And we all know that no one in America engages in sexual intercourse unless he or she is pursuing procreation. Those who find sex outside of marriage or sex with no interest in procreation morally disgusting have a right to their opinion, but not a right to throw everyone else into the 15th century.

Sorry, folks, but that horse is already out of the barn, just like all of the erectile dysfunction ads, which don’t seem to bother the moral purists. I do wonder how they feel about all of the young boys and girls who read and hear these ads: one woman I know said her eight year old son recently asked her husband, “Dad, am I healthy enough to have an erection?” Don’t worry honey, if the ninety-four year old man can do it, so can you.

Maxine Berman is the Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government at Central Michigan University, the first woman named to the post. She served seven terms in the Michigan House and most recently was director of special projects for Governor Jennifer Granholm. She is the author of the 1994 book The Only Boobs in the House Are Men.

November 1, 2012 · Filed under Berman

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Clark Harder // Nov 2, 2012 at 8:43 am

    I have a feeling that, should I be fortunate enough to live to the ripe old age of 94, an erection will be the least of my worries.

  • 2 Gloria Woods // Nov 2, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Very uplifting.

  • 3 Elizabeth Meyette // Nov 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Why does the phrase, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” come to mind? Apparently it doesn’t work the other way around. A provacative and insightful article, Maxine.

  • 4 Steve // Nov 12, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    So if I am against no co-pay birth control and no insurance coverage for ED medications, what does that make me?

    I have no problem with birth control per se, it’s the idea that it should be “free” (which essentially means that everyone else shares the cost).

  • 5 Maxine // Nov 21, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Well, Steve, here’s the point: it costs the government a few hundred dollars a year for birth control for one person. It costs the government $11,000-$12,000 per year for prenatal care and birth–not to mention the government costs if a child is born into poverty. I saw somewhere that costs to the federal government were more than $1 billion per year for these births, which is why government wants it covered–to save taxpayer dollars.

  • 6 Ross // Dec 14, 2012 at 10:14 am

    As always, a well written article. As someone in his late 30s, I would have never thought that access to birth control would become an issue… I mean, that was a battle that my mother waged, and I had thought, won. Then again, after this week’s legislative efforts, who the Hell knows anymore what will come out of Lansing.

    Anyway, kudos on a well written article.


    p.s. in all my house hunting, I have yet to find a house offering two tubs in the back yard, either. 😉

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