The Bush administration is scrambling to find a way to close a loophole that allows convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders to receive Viagra (search) at taxpayer expense.

The state comptroller's office called attention to the situation on Sunday, saying audits from 2000 through March found that 198 sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions. Their crimes included offenses against children as young as 2, Comptroller Alan Hevesi (search) said.

The auditors did not review the situation in other states, but Hevesi spokesman David Neustadt said Medicaid policies on Viagra are the same across the country.

"The bottom line is, giving convicted sex offenders government-funded Viagra is like giving convicted murderers an assault rifle when they get out of jail," said Sen. Charles Schumer (search), D-N.Y. He said he would sponsor a bill to close the loophole.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (search) said it had been unaware of the loophole, which spokeswoman Mary Kahn called an "unintended consequence" of Medicaid law.

"We are going to make every effort to see what the states or federal government can take to address this problem without harming people who have a legitimate need for this drug, such as men who had prostate cancer and diabetes," she said. "We want to see what remedies there are to address this problem."

Children's advocates said they were outraged by the comptroller's report.

"The federal government is inadvertently facilitating the sexual assault of children," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law (search), named for a New Jersey girl who was raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex offender.

Hevesi's office discovered that the state was helping sex offenders pay for Viagra by checking Medicaid pharmacy expenditures against the state's sex offender registry. In a letter Sunday to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, Hevesi requested immediate action.

The study covered only Viagra. State auditors are reviewing whether other prescription drugs for sexual dysfunction are being reimbursed by Medicaid for convicted sex offenders in the state, Neustadt said.