U.S. fraud investigators are looking into questionable Medicare payments for penis pumps, as spending on the devices has skyrocketed 500 percent over the last decade, Scripps Howard News Service reported.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the taxpayer-funded insurance program spent $36 million on “male vacuum erection systems” last year –- up from $7.2 million in 2000, the news service reported. In 2010, Medicare paid for nearly 98,000 of the devices.

The pumps are an alternative to medications to help with erectile dysfunction (ED), a problem that becomes more common with age. Researchers estimate that up to half of men over 60 experience ED. The devices work like this: a tube is placed over the penis and a pump is used to remove the air from it, creating a vacuum that draws blood into the penis, according to the Mayo Clinic. A tension ring is used to support the erection, and then the pump is removed.

In one of the largest recent frauds, an Illinois man, Gary Winner of Planned Eldercare, was sentenced to more than three years in prison in February for shipping penis pumps to diabetes patients who did not order them. Winner purchased them for $26 a pop from online sex shops and repackaged them as “erectile pumps” that assisted in bladder control and other issues, according to prosecutors. He billed Medicare $284 each for the devices, part of a larger fraud that cost the insurance plan $2.2 million over four years, prosecutors said.

Separately, a report last month by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that Pos-T-Vac Medical, a Kansas company, refund the federal government $4.2 million. The report found the company failed to comply with Medicare document requirements for half of the sampled claims. Officials at Pos-T-Vac Medical told The Washington Times they disagreed with the government’s claims.

The penis pump fiasco is the latest in a wave of recent Medicare fraud cases since 2009, when HHS began collaborating with the Attorney General’s office to create special strike forces in fraud hot spots. For example, in the biggest financial bust in Medicare history, authorities in May charged 107 doctors, nurses and social workers in seven cities with scams that allegedly billed the insurance program $452 million.

EARLIER ON HUFF/POST50: 5 Ways Post50s Can Improve Their Sex Life

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  • It's Not Over

    Everything in our culture makes people, and women in particular, feel that after the age of 40, they're no longer sexually attractive, and this belief gets internalized. But researcher Gina Ogden, in conducting her famed Isis study (a national survey of sexuality and spirituality), found that women in their 60s and 70s were having the best sex of their lives -- people need to understand that the brain is the most important sex organ in the body!

  • Hardware vs. Software

    Men and women get into sexual patterns in their teens, 20s and 30s that never change. So in recognizing this, we need to say, "the hardware is going to stay the same, but we can update the software." And you can update the software by trying different things, but mostly by getting to know yourself.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice

    If your body is an instrument, then you're only going to get better by practicing. And quite frankly, from a health standpoint, there isn't a better use of your time. Men take erection-enhancing drugs to increase nitric oxide in the penile blood vessels, but they can increase nitric oxide themselves by improving their sex lives either on their own or with a partner. Orgasms trigger a huge burst of nitric oxide, which balances the neurotransmitters in your body -- the same neurotransmitters that people take drugs to balance. It's a shame because antidepressants lower one's ability for full sexual expression, so the one thing that could really decrease depression is the one thing that the drugs quiet down. People don't realize that you can turn on chemicals in your own body without importing unnatural drugs to do it for you.

  • Get Fit

    If you're fit, you're much more likely to have a satisfying sex life. Being and feeling healthy and being and feeling sexy are synonymous. I just spoke to a 70-year-old friend of mine -- a total fox -- who's trying his luck on eHarmony. So we talked about what people in his demographic are looking for, and we both agreed -- health! When you're healthy and your hardware is working the best it can, you can focus on downloading new software.

  • Take Your Time

    Women need to understand that they are far more complicated sexually than men are. For men, the focus is in the genitals. But with women, sex is like a martial art, and women need to master that art and have the ability to move sexual energy around, manipulate sounds and focus on certain areas. The beauty of being over 50 is that you have more time to practice this. Women need 45 minutes to get fully turned-on. Do you know how long the average couple spends making love? 15 minutes. Slow down! Take time!

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