Pharma pushes back at possible state opioid tax

Plans to include a new tax on opioid manufacturers in the Connecticut state budget drew renewed opposition Saturday from the pharmaceutical industry, a potential complication for the budget debate scheduled Monday for the General Assembly.

A national coalition of pharmaceutical distributors warned the tax ultimately would be paid by patients, many of whom need prescription-opioid drugs to manage severe pain.

“By adopting the opioid tax, the state of Connecticut would be increasing health care costs for thousands of patients who need these medications for a number of conditions and surgical procedures, including the treatment of cancer and end-of-life hospice care,” wrote John Gray, president and CEO of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.

Gray released his comments about seven hours after House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, predicted that the tax would be included in the new state budget expected to be voted on Monday.

“I think it will be contained within the budget,” he said.

The speaker did not identify any specific rate, but sources close to budget negotiations between lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration said it would be a 1-cent-per-milligram tax on opioid manufacturers.

The tax would be imposed not at the retail level, but at the first point of sale – when manufacturers sell the drug to distributors. It would raise about $20 million per year.

“The producers of opioids have made a lot of money in a very inappropriate way,” Aresimowicz said. “So it’s our intention to make sure they will be paying it, not the consumers.”

The misuse of opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids, has been recognized as a national health care crisis, and has prompted bills in recent years in Connecticut and many other states to increase awareness and improve health provider training.

An opioid tax was recommended by Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo and a handful of Connecticut legislators last month to complement a state-sponsored health insurance option for individuals and small businesses that don’t have employer-subsidized coverage.

That public option proposal has bogged down. But sources said the opioid tax in the new state budget would not be contingent on Connecticut offering a public option in the future.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America issued a similar cautionary statement about an opioid tax when details of the public option plan was unveiled.

“Putting forward a tax on medicines that meet legitimate medical needs is not an appropriate way to fund the governor’s priorities that have nothing to do with the opioid crisis in Connecticut,” the group wrote.

Keith M. Phaneuf is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2019 © The Connecticut Mirror.

kphaneuf@ctmirror.org

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