How DeSantis Is Trying to Lure Older Voters Away From Trump

How DeSantis Is Trying to Lure Older Voters Away From Trump

As a 44-year-old member of the generation

But he tries anyway.

As Mr. DeSantis nears the official launch of a 2024 presidential campaign, he is attempting to gain an early foothold with this large, politically influential constituency of voters by appealing to their purse-strings concerns.

He has particularly focused on his efforts to reduce the cost of prescription drugs in Florida, including calling for the federal government to be allowed to import cheaper drugs from Canada. This month he signed a bill that he says will reduce costs by regulating intermediaries in the pharmaceutical industry.

“We believe healthcare is too expensive,” Mr. DeSantis said when he signed the Palm Beach County bill into law. “Prescription drugs are too expensive.”

“In our healthcare system,” he continued, “there’s a lot of bureaucracy and bureaucracy.” And people are making money off of that system that don’t add any real value to the system.”

While touring the country and appearing at Republican fundraisers, the governor added a line to his speech about the new law.

Attempts to highlight drug costs come as Mr. Trump, who would be Mr. DeSantis’ main Republican rival, has lashed out at him for backing plans to restructure Social Security and Medicare — programs that are untouchable for many older Americans. (Mr Trump himself has expressed similar sentiments in the past.)

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters are over 50. Older voters also contributed to DeSantis’ overwhelming re-election victory last year. According to polls, he received 6 out of 10 votes from the over 65s.

The problem of prescription drugs, prices of which have risen sharply in recent years, reflects one of Mr. DeSantis’ advantages in a primary: the ability to campaign for a long list of legislation he signed into law this year.

But the discussion of drug costs also highlights the potential communication challenges Mr. DeSantis may face as a candidate. The governor, who sees himself as a political expert, sometimes struggled to make the issue tangible for voters. The drug bill is far paltry and more complicated than the red meat he feeds his base for conservative reasons like cutting funding for diversity programs in state schools, banning underage mentoring for sex reassignment surgery, and restricting options for undocumented immigrants , finding and gaining access to work has fed social services.

And because he’s signing so many new bills — including 37 in a single day — even some observant Floridians are unaware that his recent attempts to legislate to reduce drug costs regulate.

Al Salvi, 61, is one of the sort of voters who are likely to 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 performed 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 administrators.

“The hell is that?” Mr Salvi said in an interview. “Every time I go to the pharmacy, I see a pharmacist. I’ve never seen a pharmacy benefit manager.”

“The problem with the message,” he added, “is that people won’t understand it because they need to know how the supply chain works.”

Pharmacy benefit managers work with drug manufacturers, insurance plans, and pharmacies to offer drugs at a discounted price to patients. Patient advocates, however, question whether performance managers pass sufficiently savings for consumers. All 50 states have sought greater control over them, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

Industry lobbyists deny that benefit managers aren’t helping consumers. And they say Florida’s new law, passed with broad bipartisan support, won’t reduce drug costs.

When Mr. DeSantis discusses the issue publicly, he sometimes seems opaque. He tends to briefly discuss how he believes benefit managers are harming both consumers and neighborhood pharmacies before delving into detailed explanations of practices, which he decries by using technical terms such as “arbitrage Possibility” and “vertically integrated units” are used. He often refers to pharmacy benefit managers by the acronym “PBMs.”

The governor’s office says it’s the news media’s fault if voters are unaware of policy changes.

“Could it be possible that people are missing out on the great things that Gov. DeSantis is doing because media outlets like the New York Times are instead choosing to highlight only those aspects and stories that further their left-wing agenda?” Mr. DeSantis’ press secretary , Bryan Griffin, wrote in an email. (Mr. Griffin attended the governor’s policy action on Monday.) “We’ve had a press conference almost every day for the past two weeks announcing the governor’s record number of legislative accomplishments from that session. The problem is not with us.”

Those on the issue believe Mr. DeSantis’ plan could have a real impact on drug pricing and transparency, especially when compared to Mr. Trump’s efforts. When Mr. Trump was in the White House, he tried to scrap rebates for pharmacy benefit managers, arguing that they drove up drug prices. However, he ultimately dropped the issue for most of his tenure.

“Trump’s plan was substantial. But it ended up being more bark than bite,” said Antonio Ciaccia, the chief executive officer of 46brooklyn, an Ohio-based nonprofit group focused on drug pricing education and research. “DeSantis’ plan is more bite than Belle.”

Under Florida’s new law, a prosecutor will handle consumer and pharmacy complaints against the drug dealers. And state regulators have extensive enforcement powers, including the ability to impose large fines and even strip a pharmacy benefit manager of the right to operate in Florida.

The state will also have the ability to view contracts of benefit administrators involved in almost all of the companies involved every step of drug pricing. The three largest intermediaries, CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx own a majority of the market. They are co-owned with insurance plans and sometimes retail pharmacies. For example, CVS Health includes CVS Caremark, as well as retail pharmacy chain CVS and health insurance company Aetna.

“Oversight should help shed light on the black box of drug pricing,” said State Senator Jason Brodeur, an Orlando-area Republican who supported the bill.

For his part, President Biden is popular with older voters and has pushed ahead with his own plans to lower drug prices. But his government has blocked Florida and other states from importing Canadian drugs, prompting Mr. DeSantis to sue the Food and Drug Administration last year. Florida passed legislation four years ago allowing Canadian medicines to be imported.

“It’s been held up by the Biden administration and the FDA because they say it’s not safe to buy drugs from Canada,” Mr. DeSantis said recently. “They only bother the pharmaceutical companies.”

Carly Kempler, a spokeswoman for the FDA, said the agency has a duty to “ensure that the proposed import does not pose an additional risk to the health and safety of the public while achieving a significant reduction in the cost of the covered products to the American consumer.” .

For now, Mr. DeSantis appears to be finalizing his messaging on prescription drugs.

During a stopover in rural Wisconsin, he briefly mentioned the pharmacy benefit manager law.

“We’ve moved on to holding the drug companies accountable by shed light and curbing things like pharmacy benefit managers that make you pay more for expensive drugs,” he said.

The crowd responded with mild applause, having cheered moments earlier as Mr. DeSantis described a bill he had signed that would provide for the death penalty for sexual violence against children.