With all the frenzy surrounding federal rules that require insurance coverage for birth control and the Republicans using the issue to take aim at President Obama's "mandates," it's interesting to note that Utah, one of the most conservative and Republican states in the country, has its own form of mandate.
It's for Viagra.
The Utah Legislature has followed the Republican course over the years of refusing to include women's contraception products among those that must be covered in insurance plans. But when it comes to lifting the guys to a robust sex life, the male-dominated Legislature is there for them.
Utah is the only state in the nation that allows the purchase of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs online, without a physical examination and prescription from a physician. The Beehive State's unique system was first established in 2003 through a consent agreement between the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, represented by the Utah Attorney General's Office, and KwikMed.com, a company that offers several "lifestyle" drugs online.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, says that deal was probably illegal at the time since it established a state-sanctioned monopoly for KwikMed, whose lobbyist is former senator and legislative insider Paul Rogers. But once it was done, the state was in a bind. If the Legislature passed legislation discontinuing the consent agreement, KwikMed could sue for financial harm since it invested tens of thousands of dollars in its business model under the agreement that it could operate in Utah.
The Legislature, since the consent agreement, shot down legislation to tighten up the online Viagra business and impose restrictions. One legislator, former Rep. Aaron Tilton, was even hired on as a Viagra salesman for KwikMed, until he went on to bigger and better things, like bringing a nuclear power plant to Utah.
While the Legislature was shooting down attempts to restrict online Viagra, it was also shooting down attempts to get contraception coverage for women.
One such bill, sponsored by former Democratic Sen. Paula Julander in 2005, was shuffled not to the Health Committee, but to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which normally tackles oil and gas regulations and, surprise, shot the "pill bill" down.
Bramble was successful, finally, in inserting some equity into the system. He sponsored legislation in 2010 that required licensing of the online providers through DOPL. He said at the time: "The primary interest of the Legislature would be to establish a uniform statutory framework for the regulation and oversight of online pharmacy operations ... and making it a level playing field for all participants."
Now, through the licensing requirements, another online ED provider has opened up shop in Utah Secure Medical.
Under the new guidelines, the online companies must have prospective clients fill out a long questionnaire on their health history before they can buy Viagra and other ED drugs online.
But they still don't need a doctor's prescription, a detail that irks the Utah Medical Association and other physicians' groups.
So, when you hear the phrase, "This is the place," attributed to Brigham Young, it can also refer to the only state where you can get your hands on those valuable little diamond-shaped pills without going through a doctor.
But it's also one of the places that steadfastly refuses to enhance the availability of affordable contraception drugs to counter possible unwanted outcomes from use of that little diamond-shaped pill.
Combine that contradictory policy with the Utah Legislature's current war on sex education and you have a formula that should maintain, for years to come, Utah's claim to the highest birth rate in the nation.