Cuomo’s Out of Control Craving for an Opioid Slush Fund

Sometimes a bad idea is a bad idea, no matter how you package it. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying again, after his $600 million opioid tax was slapped down in December by an Obama appointed federal judge.

Proponents of the earlier tax scheme pointed to a key provision which forbade manufacturers from passing along the cost to patients. This was an essential element of the plan  — who in their right mind would want to punish patients whose doctors legitimately prescribe opioids for acute pain?  

Even supporters of sin-taxes recognize the folly of squeezing vulnerable patients to pay for an opioid crisis now fueled by the illegal fentanyl trade.

In December, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla ruled against “the method by which the act extracts payments from opioid manufacturers and distributors.” Because the law prevented manufacturers from passing costs on to patients, even in other states, the court found that the punitive tax was unconstitutional.

As a result of the ruling, Governor Cuomo was in a bind. He could have simply abandoned the cash grab, or he could have tweaked the law to make it constitutional by permitting the tax to be passed along to pain patients. Unfortunately, he went with the latter. Like an addict, he went for the fix, regardless of the harmful consequences.

It begs the question, why did the governor propose, and the legislature pass, an illegal funding mechanism in the first place, especially since treatment and prevention are urgently needed and politically popular?

There’s an obvious reason: Albany lacks fiscal discipline. Despite very high tax rates, there’s no money left to fund legitimate programs.

But the real reason Governor Cuomo first relied on an unconstitutional tax was that it was less bizarre than the alternative he’s now chosen.

Taxing legal opioid prescriptions isn’t just bad politics, it’s bad policy. “Taxing patients in pain” wouldn’t make a popular campaign slogan. And because legitimate opioid prescriptions are no longer driving opioid abuse, taxing pain sufferers to pay for treatment and prevention of a black-market fentanyl fueled problem has no rational justification.

It’s not a tax on the bad actors, its a tax on the most sympathetic ones: pain patients. It’s also a tax on the government because for over a decade Medicare has been the single largest payer for prescription opioids.

The tax was constitutionally flawed in 2018, but the legal “fix” exposes the broader gambit as the cash grab it was from day one. Funding a slush fund on the backs of today’s pain patients is foolish. Patients didn’t cause the epidemic and taxing them won’t fix it or prevent addiction.

Instead, states should address the epidemic by tackling the issues in a constructive, and when possible, bipartisan manner. Despite the political rancor, Congress came together last year to pass The SUPPORT act, signed by President Trump in October. The law, which garnered nearly unanimous bipartisan support, was lauded by the American Medical Association for touching “on almost every aspect of the epidemic,” including stemming the flow of fentanyl through the mail, supporting research for new non-addictive painkillers, and targeted funding for prevention and treatment programs.

Critics of the plan aren’t opioid crisis deniers. We believe that there are more sensible, compassionate — and effective — tools to address the problem than simply taxing pain patients to conjure up money for a so-called “opioid stewardship fund.” If there’s one thing Albany has taught us, it’s that the state isn’t a good steward of slush funds, regardless of the severity of the problem at hand.

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.

Ah … because oil is the problem, eateries (and patrons) pay the price

Jeff Stier of the Consumer Choice Center says all Americans are affected by what happens in the oceans and should all work to reduce pollution – but that doesn’t justify banning all uses of products, he argues.S

“And it’s not only to ban plastics because they claim it winds up in the ocean,” he adds, “but [also] because it’s petroleum-based – and that’s what’s been driving the anti-plastics campaigns for a long time.”

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.

Broad Coalition calls on Congress to reclaim its authority on tariffs

Arlington, VA – A coalition of 30 organizations, including the Consumer Choice Center, led by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce released a letter today encouraging lawmakers to reclaim their tariff authority, which has been delegated to the executive branch.
Read the letter HERE
In the letter, the groups write:
“As the Senate Finance Committee begins its important work of considering legislation related to tariffs, we write to urge you to include important priorities in any proposal put forth by the Committee.
“Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution provides Congress with ‘the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises.’ Over the years, however, some authority related to tariffs has been delegated to the executive branch. As a result, the president has unilaterally imposed tariffs – which are taxes on Americans – on more than $300 billion in imports last year without the explicit approval of the peoples’ elected representatives in Congress.
“Congress now has an opportunity to reclaim some of this tariff authority, with the Senate Finance Committee leading the way. … As the committee continues to review and craft legislative proposals, we stand ready to assist and support you in this endeavor.”


Prescription drug situation less than ideal for consumers

Jeff Stier of the Consumer Choice Center has mixed opinions.

“Senator Braun’s is an attempt to solve or address the problem of PBMs, pharmacy benefit managers who are not passing along price reductions instituted by the pharmaceuticals along to the consumers, so there is a real problem there,” Stier begins. “I as a freemarketer am never pleased to see legislation that bans behavior between two companies, so if a PBM gets rebates from drug companies, that may be how they operate their business.”

In what Stier describes as his ideal world, the consumer could choose whether to engage with that business model. 

“However, we don’t live in a healthcare environment that’s free market; it’s extremely regulated,” he continues. “It’s kind of like a ball of string with knots in it, and I think this proposal addresses one of the really ugly knots, but I think more needs to be done to untangle it so that we have something that serves consumers, that advances public health, that looks more like a free market.”

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.

FDA chief’s resignation casts cloud over vaping crackdown

Dr. Gottlieb didn’t protect the public health by preventing youth initiation of e-cigarettes, and he didn’t do enough to help adult smokers quit,” said Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, part of the coalition formed by Americans for Tax Reform. “The next FDA commissioner should follow the science and do everything possible to prevent youth initiation of e-cigarettes, while at the same time helping adult smokers switch.”

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.

FDA surprise: Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, aggressive regulator against vaping, resigns

Free-market groups and vaping industry interests have been critical of the FDA efforts under Gottlieb. Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the free-market think tank Consumer Choice Center.

“We’ve been complaining and pointing out how the administration’s approach to e-cigarettes is not consistent with what president promised on limited regulation,” he said. “What Gottlieb was threatening was over-regulation.”

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.

European Union and United States should agree on no tariffs on either food or cars

Trade representatives of the European Union and the United States are meeting today to discuss the scope of EU-US trade talks. The United States argues for an opening of trade relations on food, while the European Union wants to avoid the introduction of tariffs on automobiles.

In response, Bill Wirtz, Policy Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), argued that there was an easy compromise to be found here:

“The essential question is: why can’t we have both? Free trade on food means more choices and better quality food for European consumers, and free trade on cars will mean more choices and better quality for American consumers. The goal should be the bring tariff and non-tariff barriers done to an absolute minimum, ideally to zero,” said Wirtz.

“Some EU leaders, including French president Emmanuel Macron, argue in favour of protectionism on food, in order to court the vote of the agricultural sector. That is short-run economic thinking, and hurts consumers. Protectionism has been intellectually bankrupt for centuries, and it’s time we admit it,” said Wirtz.

“We don’t know what the future holds. Maybe the roles will be reversed in a couple of years, and consumers will be longing for European food and American cars. In any way, it shouldn’t be the role of these trade representatives to restrict consumer choice. The European Union praises the advantages that free trade has had for this continent. It shouldn’t be any different for those across the Atlantic,” concluded Wirtz.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

End North Carolina’s archaic monopoly on liquor sales

When it comes to alcohol policy, North Carolina is more an outlier than exemplar.

Though ours is among 17 states with an alcohol control system, where the state retains monopoly control of part of the alcohol trade, it stands out as one of the most restrictive. Private liquor stores are banned, prices are fixed, and a Prohibition-era mentality still pervades the plethora of alcohol regulations overseen by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

There are 168 individual local boards that control liquor, a bizarre and fractured system in which politicians and administrators determine everything from prices on bottles of tequila to where they should be placed in ABC stores and how much to stock.

The state ABC system brought in $1 billion last year, generating $430 million in tax revenue that local and state politicians have grown all too reliant on.

With that much overlapping jurisdiction and political control, it’s no surprise that a 2018 audit revealed $11.3 million in losses over a decade due to “mismanagement.” And that number is likely conservative, considering politicians aren’t known for making the best business decisions.

The ABC system raises costs for consumers, misallocates capital better used by private enterprise, and gives too much authority to politicians and administrators as economic planners rather than regulators. What would be the dispersed benefits and additional tax revenue if we allowed private liquor retailers to operate?

Yet we still see opposition to moderate proposals being introduced by state lawmakers to bring alcohol regulation into the 21st century.

Last week, S.B. 87 was introduced to merge ABC boards in counties where there are more than two, scrap liquor transportation permits, allow sale of individual bottles for special orders, liquor sales on Sundays, and in-store tastings. While the bill is encouraging, it doesn’t go far enough to empower consumers by dismantling the wasteful and unnecessary monopoly enjoyed by ABC stores.

A recent Elon University poll found that 52 percent of North Carolinians want to shut down the ABC monopoly and allow private liquor sales.

Those results were included in a 65-page report released by the Program Evaluation Division of the General Assembly earlier this month, urging moderate changes found in the Senate bill but falling short of recommending private liquor retail sales.

Sadly, the report assumes small tinkering of the status quo, rather than wholesale reform, would be the best way forward. It also assumes that a state monopoly on alcohol is a given. That’s precisely the problem.

It’s the same reason we don’t grant the state a monopoly on sales of firearms, tobacco, cured meats, and pesticides, products that can be abused or exploited to cause harm. For these products and thousands of others, we believe in robust and smart regulation to encourage free enterprise while protecting consumers, not total political control of a market in order to maximize tax revenue.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Prohibition ended 86 years ago, politicians aren’t business wizards, and liquor sales should be about responsible consumption in a competitive market rather than yet another government program to collect taxes. ABC should come to an end.

Originally published at https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article226861699.html

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

The Department of Health and Human Services and vaping: A tale of bootleggers and Baptists

Consumer Choice Center senior fellow Jeff Stier said virtually the same thing to a Washington Post reporter late last year.

“The administration promised less regulation — without sacrificing protections,” said Stier, in response to Gottlieb’s release of the 2018 tobacco blueprint. “So if the FDA fails to meet both objectives — by announcing a heavy-handed regulatory plan — President Trump should realize that the current leadership at the FDA is not equipped to implement the administration’s policy agenda,” he added, alluding to the FDA’s push to heavily regulate the vaping industry as means to protect the public interest from the ostensible youth vaping epidemic.

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.

Cannabis stocks climb ahead of congressional hearing on bank access

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director at the cannabis advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, urged lawmakers to push for banking reform, outlining the risks facing companies forced to operate as cash-only businesses.

“Higher risk means cannabis companies face additional costs,” Ossowski said in a statement. “They have to hire security guards for transporting cash and paying local and state taxes, hire additional accountants to understand how to comply with existing rules and dedicate hours to organizing cash for payroll and business expenses. That ends upraising the cost of the product.”

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.