As a 44-year-old member of Generation X, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida may be an unlikely candidate to wrest his party’s older voters away from Donald J. Trump, a 76-year-old baby boomer.
But he still tries.
Like Mr. DeSantis concludes the official launch of the 2024 campaign for president is trying to make early inroads into this large, politically influential group of voters by appealing to their wallets.
He has focused particularly on his efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs in Florida, including pushing the federal government to allow cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada. This month, he signed the promissory note that, according to him, will reduce the costs of regulating middlemen in the drug industry.
“We think health care is too expensive,” Mr. DeSantis said at the signing of the bill in Palm Beach County. “Prescription drugs are too expensive.”
“In our health care system,” he continued, “you see a lot of red tape, red tape. And people are making money off of this system that doesn’t really add value to the system.”
Like him travels the nation Appearing at Republican fundraisers, the governor added a line about the new law to his stump speech.
The attempts to highlight drug costs come as Mr Trump, who would be Mr DeSantis’ main Republican rival, has attacked him for supported plans to restructure Social Security and Medicare — programs that are sacred to many older Americans. (Mr. Trump himself has expressed similar feelings in the past.)
More than 60 percent of Republican and Republican voters are over 50, according to the Pew Research Center. Older voters also backed Mr. DeSantis’ landslide election victory last year. He got 6 out of 10 votes from people over 65, according to exit polling.
The issue of prescription drugs, whose prices have risen in recent years, it reflects one of Mr. DeSantis’ advantages in the primaries: the ability to push through the long list of bills he signed this year.
But talking about drug costs also illustrates the potential messaging problems Mr. DeSantis could face as a candidate. The governor, who considers himself a political expert, has at times struggled to bring the issue to voters. Drug costs are much drier and more complicated than the red meat he fed his base for conservative causes like definancing diversity programs in public schools, ban gender-transition care of minors and restrictive the ability of undocumented immigrants to find work and access social services.
And because he’s signing so many new laws—incl 37 in a single day — even some observant Floridians are unaware of his latest attempt to lower drug costs with legislation that regulates middlemen in the industry called pharmacy benefit managers.
Al Salvi, 61, is the type of voter who would likely know about the new law. Mr. Salvi, a cancer survivor who volunteers with AARP in Florida, traveled to Tallahassee from South Florida to testify on three bills during this year’s legislative session. In 2019 he he appeared with Mr. DeSantis at an event promoting the initiative to import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. But he hadn’t heard of the law targeting pharmacy benefit managers.
“What the hell is that?” Mr. Salvi said in an interview. “Every time I go to the pharmacy, I see the pharmacist. I have never seen a pharmacy benefit manager.’
“The problem with messaging,” he added, “is that people won’t understand because they need to know how the supply chain works.”
Pharmacy Benefit Managers work with drug manufacturers, insurance plans and pharmacies to provide discounted drugs to patients. But patient advocates question whether benefits managers go far enough savings for consumers. All 50 states searched greater overview of them according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.
Lobbyists argue that executives benefit, not helping consumers. And they say Florida’s new law, which passed with broad bipartisan support, won’t lower drug costs.
When Mr. DeSantis publicly discusses an issue, he can sometimes appear opaque. He tends to talk briefly about how he believes benefit managers are harming consumers and neighborhood pharmacies before diving into detailed explanations of the practices he disparages, using technical terms like “arbitrage opportunity” and “vertically integrated entities.” Pharmacy benefit managers are often abbreviated as “PBMs”
The governor’s office says if voters don’t know about the policy changes, it’s the news media’s fault.
“Is it possible that people are missing out on the great things Governor DeSantis is doing because media outlets like The New York Times choose instead to amplify only those viewpoints and stories that promote their leftist agenda? Mr. DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin, wrote in an email. (Mr Griffin became involved in the governor’s political operation on Monday.) “We’ve had a press conference almost every day for the past two weeks touting the governor’s record number of legislative accomplishments this session. The problem is not us.”
Those working on the issue say they believe Mr. DeSantis’ plan could have a real impact on drug prices and transparency, especially compared to Mr. Trump’s efforts. When Mr. Trump was in the White House, he tried to do just that end discounts for pharmacy benefit managers, arguing that they raise drug prices. But he eventually dropped the problem most of his tenure.
“Trump’s plan was essential. But it ended up being more bark than bite,” said Antonio Ciaccia, CEO of 46brooklyn, an Ohio-based nonprofit group that focuses on drug pricing education and research. “DeSantis’ plan is more bite than bark.
Under Florida’s new law, the state attorney general will dismiss consumer and pharmacy complaints against drug dealers. And state regulators will have broad enforcement powers, including the ability to impose hefty fines and even revoke a pharmacy benefit manager’s right to operate in Florida.
The state will also be able to control the contracts of benefit managers who almost participate in them every step of drug prices. It owns the three largest intermediaries, CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx most market. They they are jointly owned with insurance plans and sometimes retail pharmacies. For example, Owned by CVS Health CVS Caremark, as well as the retail chain of CVS pharmacies and a health insurance company Aetna.
“Oversight should help shed light on the black box of drug prices,” said state Sen. Jason Brodeur, an Orlando-area Republican who sponsored the bill.
President Biden, for his part, does popular with older voters and has pushed their own plans to lower drug prices. But his administration did blocked Florida and other states from importing Canadian drugs, leading Mr. DeSantis Sue Food and Drug Administration last year. Florida passed its law four years ago allowing the importation of Canadian drugs.
“The Biden administration and the FDA have delayed it because they say it’s not safe to buy drugs from Canada,” Mr. DeSantis said recently. “They’re just interfering with drug companies.”
Carly Kempler, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency has an obligation to “ensure that the proposed importation poses no additional risk to public health and safety while achieving a significant reduction in the cost of covered products to the American consumer.”
For now, it appears Mr. DeSantis is still processing his prescription drug reports.
In a a stop in rural Wisconsinhe briefly mentioned the Pharmacy Benefit Administrators Act.
“We’ve held Big Pharma accountable by shining a light and cutting back on things like pharmacy benefit managers that make you pay more for expensive drugs,” he said.
The crowd responded with moderate applause that erupted into cheers as Mr. DeSantis described the law he signed that allows death penalty for sexual battery against a child.