TRENTON, N.J. – This week, a group of New Jersey advocates called on Governor Phil Murphy to abandon any opioid tax in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal. In a joint letter sent to the Governor, the New Jersey Pharmacists Association, the Garden State Pharmacy Owners, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, the Homecare and Hospice Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores, and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association expressed continued concern for the measure, especially after demand for opioid-based medications increased more than 500 percent in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area during the height of COVID-19.
Nancy Fitterer, president of the Home Care and Hospice Association of New Jersey expressed the concern of the state’s in-home and hospice-care providers, “The Home Care & Hospice Association of New Jersey strongly believes that any financial assessment on our healthcare supply chain would only further disrupt in-home and hospice-care, harming patients in the process. Our industry, in particular, has suffered immensely under the pressure of COVID-19, and now, our providers and patients need smart public policies from our lawmakers. In this year’s budget, the state’s focus must be on ensuring proper care for those who need it rather than restricting access and increasing cost burdens on vulnerable patients at this critical time.”
During his last two budget addresses, Governor Murphy introduced a $21.5 million fee on opioid manufacturers and distributors to help fund the state’s response to the opioid epidemic. With the Murphy Administration projecting a $10 billion budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition urged Governor Murphy to abandon this measure, citing the essential role opioid-based medications, specifically Fentanyl, play in helping to treat COVID-19 patients.
“The unprecedented demands in medication caused by COVID-19 created a number of shortages, including for opioid-based treatments,” said John Holub, executive director of the New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores. “With no signs of an end to COVID-19, we cannot threaten access to critical medications with bad public policy. It is critical that Governor Murphy remove any financial assessment on opioids from his budget proposal.”
Christina M. Renna, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, also detailed the business community’s concern for an opioid tax proposal, “New Jersey’s business community and its employees have long struggled to afford health insurance coverage. Now, as businesses begin to open their doors and try to recover from the financial and health-related strain of COVID-19, our government must implement policies that help employers, not hurt them. A tax on opioid manufacturers and distributors will only lead to higher healthcare costs for the state’s businesses, health professionals, and patients.”
Failing during the Fiscal Year 2020 budget session and sidelined this year due to COVID-19, the opioid fee proposal was met with intense opposition both times it was introduced. Many patient advocates, business organizations, and even lawmakers expressed skepticism over the opioid proposal, fearing it would have unintended consequences on patients and the New Jersey healthcare system by increasing the cost of opioid-based medications or reducing provider access. These medications are used for many medical procedures and treatments, including for surgeries, epidurals during childbirth, cancer and chronic pain treatments, and more.
The letter to Governor Murphy is attached.
July 6, 2020
The Honorable Phil Murphy
Office of the Governor
PO Box 100
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0001
Dear Governor Phil Murphy:
Thank you for your leadership over the last several months. Despite being the second hardest-hit state in the country, only behind New York, we are relieved to see New Jersey’s new cases and hospitalizations continue to decline. Unsurprisingly, our state’s residents and healthcare industry have been extremely resilient throughout this pandemic, fighting daily to overcome COVID-19. And our state’s progress can be attributed to the incredible work of our doctors, nurses, responders, and other frontline workers as well as the commitment to social distancing and quarantine measures of all New Jerseyans.
As the government looks to reopen businesses gradually and address the economic turmoil that COVID-19’s impact has thrust onto the state, we encourage you and leaders in the legislature to consider smart public policies that will help New Jersey’s most vulnerable populations recover—not impose additional costs. Your projection of a $10 billion budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2021 is certainly daunting, and filling this budget gap will be challenging. However, New Jersey remains one of the most expensive states to live, and our business climate is among the worst in the nation. And now, the cost of healthcare for patients, businesses, and healthcare providers is uncertain.
During the height of COVID-19, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid-based pain treatment, was the one of the most in-demand medications in the nation. This medication, which has been at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic, was, and still is, critical to our fight against COVID-19. Many patients battling the virus were placed on ventilators for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, because of the pain associated with inserting a tube down a patient’s airway to his or her lung is met with extreme pain, and medical professions cannot do it without pain killers and muscle relaxers, like fentanyl. In most parts of the country, demand for fentanyl doubled, but in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan region, demand was up more than 500 percent.
During the last two budget sessions, your administration introduced a $21.5 million fee on opioid manufacturers and distributors to help fund the state’s response to the opioid epidemic. Failing during the 2020 budget session and sidelined this year due to COVID-19, this proposal was met with intense opposition—and for a good reason. As we have seen over the last several months, opioid-based medications serve a very legitimate and critical purpose. They are not just needed for ventilators, but during surgeries, in epidurals during childbirth, and for people living with severe chronic pain.
By adding additional taxes on opioid-based medications, you would effectively be raising costs on care facilities administering them OR patients receiving them. In the face of a global pandemic where opioid medications have saved lives, we strongly urge that you abandon this proposal as you continue to draft your budget for 2021.
Put simply, an opioid tax remains bad public policy, and it would set a dangerous precedent that would harm New Jersey’s most vulnerable populations. Thank you for your consideration, and we wish you the best as you continue to lead New Jersey’s fight against COVID-19.
Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey
Garden State Pharmacy Owners
Home Care and Hospice Association of NJ
New Jersey Business and Industry Association
New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores
New Jersey Pharmacists Association