Make no mistake, New Jersey’s political leaders have a responsibility to address our opioid epidemic. However, Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent budget proposal to levy a $21 million assessment on prescription opioid medications does nothing to combat this public health crisis. Rather, it would wrongfully punish responsible patients while triggering a number of harmful consequences to a part of our healthcare system and broader economy.
Governor Murphy’s proposal is not an original concept. A number of state governments, including New York and California, have considered similar tax-based proposals aimed at “punishing” the healthcare industry for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic. Most of these state legislatures intended to use the tax revenue to support the cost of opioid treatment and prevention programs. Not in New Jersey. The funds raised from this tax will not be constitutionally dedicated for opioid recovery programs but rather would go into the state’s general fund, to be used for whatever spending programs public officials choose.
No matter how the governor’s office tries to frame his proposal to legislators and the public, let’s call this what it is: a tax increase on patients who use legitimately prescribed medications for managing their diseases and chronic pain.
Informed opposition from New Jersey’s employers, healthcare professionals, and patients has fallen on deaf ears in the Murphy Administration so far. It seems the only proposals that get any hearing these days are those aimed at the Administration’s addictive chase for more revenue.
The “millionaire’s tax,” sales tax expansion and a tax on prescription medications are all scripted to satiate this administration’s appetite for revenue. Drawing millions in funding from the healthcare system to fill state coffers with little regard for the impact on patients, New Jersey’s overall economy, or all of our quality of life, is over simplistic and careless.
Thankfully, more experienced members of the state legislature have already spoken out against this misguided proposal. Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, a trauma nurse and a well-respected member of the Assembly Health Committee, has repeatedly expressed her concerns regarding how this tax would impact the affordability of clinically necessary pain management treatment. She has rightfully called out this tax as “immoral” and that it will ultimately fall on consumers — just as every other assessment on New Jersey businesses ultimately does. And in this case, these consumers are patients and seniors with legitimate medical needs. She has rightfully asked the administration, how does raising the price of a cancer or pain patient’s medicine help solve the opioid crisis?
Consequences extend beyond higher prescription drug costs for patients and their families. Businesses, individuals, and taxpayers continue to see their cost of living in our state escalate.
As yet another added expense from the Murphy Administration, this tax would mean higher overall healthcare costs and burdensome month-to-month expenses for many who can’t afford it. In a state with the nation’s worst business climate and highest cost of doing business, businesses who employ New Jersey residents and provide them health benefits will likely experience higher operational costs and face difficult choices leading to deteriorating employee benefit packages.
Assessing a tax that worsens the financial burden for New Jersey residents and New Jerseys employers, as well as places a greater burden on patients who are already suffering, won’t do anything to combat the opioid crisis.
Fortunately, our lawmakers have the opportunity to reject the governor’s harmful proposal and instead work toward a more considerate solution to the opioid epidemic—one that protects New Jersey’s businesses and families from the harmful effects of short-sighted, revenue-driven policies.