Foss: Revamped opioid tax a bad idea


Bad ideas rarely die. 

Instead they mutate, taking on new yet still troubling forms. 

That’s what’s happened to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ill-fated plan to tax opioid distributors and manufacturers. Struck down as unconstitutional last year by a federal judge, the plan has been revived — and it’s even more misguided than before.  

Don’t get me wrong — I have no love for the pharmaceutical companies who downplayed the risks of painkillers, fueling the opioid epidemic that caused a record number of overdose deaths last year. 

But opioids do have a legitimate purpose, the easing of pain. 

Cuomo’s original opioid tax proposal barred manufacturers and distributors from passing the tax on to consumers, but I feared the companies targeted by the governor’s plan would find a way to make patients pay for the increased costs of doing business in New York. 

What makes Cuomo’s new opioid tax proposal so much worse than the first is that it all but encourages opioid manufacturers and distributors to make patients foot the bill. 

“The economic incidence of the tax imposed by the article may be passed to a purchaser,” the legislation states. 

What doomed the governor’s first opioid tax proposal was that it violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by forcing companies to pass the cost on to consumers in other states. 

The new law solves that problem by allowing opioid companies to make New Yorkers pay for the tax, but that doesn’t mean it’s good policy. 

Prescription drugs are already expensive, and Cuomo’s proposal will only make it worse. 

It will also reinforce the notion that there’s something wrong with taking painkillers by making patients who use opioids as part of their treatment and recovery pay more. 

This is unfair, and unnecessarily stigmatizing. 

I used opioids after I broke my wrist. My father used them after heart surgery. I’ve known many people who have used them responsibly, to relieve pain that would have otherwise caused great distress. Why should they have to absorb these extra costs? 

The law would exempt some painkillers used to treat drug addicts and hospice patients, but “it would still apply to the majority of opioids prescribed to patients, the vast majority of whom are using them for legitimate reasons,” as Bill Hammond, who writes about health care policy for the Albany-based Empire Center, notes. “The single biggest payer would likely be the state’s own Medicaid program.” 

The ostensible purpose of the opioid tax is to generate money to pay for addiction treatment and prevention programs. 

That’s a worthwhile goal. 

But taxing opioids is a bad way to achieve it. 

The state needs to find a way to expand prevention and treatment programs without making people in pain bear the brunt of the cost. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion

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