Governor Ron DeSantis has announced his intention to run for President, following a successful re-election campaign in November 2021. While DeSantis has made a name for himself through his battles with Disney and on education, his profile rose considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially supporting lockdown measures, he quickly shifted his stance and became a consistent opponent of most federal health guidance. As he seeks to “Make America Florida,” his health care record will come under closer scrutiny.
One issue that is likely to be closely examined is the “unwinding” of Florida’s Medicaid program from the public health emergency rules. During the pandemic, the state was required to keep people enrolled in Medicaid, and in the first month of Medicaid determinations, data shows that around 250,000 people were disenrolled in April, most for procedural reasons. This has raised concerns, with 52 organizations signing a letter asking DeSantis to pause the redetermination process to ensure people are not mistakenly disenrolled from the safety net program. Florida is one of 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid to low-income uninsured childless adults, meaning it continues to have one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents.
DeSantis has also been praised for Florida’s decision to extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women by 10 months, giving them a year’s worth of Medicaid access following childbirth. This move will be closely watched, as it demonstrates a willingness to expand access to health care services.
DeSantis’ health care record prior to the pandemic was mixed. He announced he wouldn’t oppose smoking medical marijuana shortly after taking office, but his support for medical marijuana made it difficult for him to find a state Surgeon General. In 2019, he supported House Speaker José Oliva’s agenda, which included eliminating certificates of need for new hospitals and eventually tertiary programs. He also signed telehealth legislation into law, which authorized out-of-state physicians to provide telehealth services to Florida residents. However, he vetoed legislation that required the Florida Department of Health to charge a $150 registration fee for out-of-state health care professionals wanting to register as Florida telehealth providers.
DeSantis also became the face of the state’s efforts to establish a Canadian Drug Importation Program, which has yet to receive federal approval. However, he did not support the fees tied to the program that the Legislature approved and vetoed the bill that would have authorized the state to levy fees for an international prescription drug wholesale distributor permit and an annual inspection fee.
During the pandemic, DeSantis was initially a hard-liner on slow-the-spread policies, but he lifted most social distancing policies when the state entered “Phase Three” of its COVID response effort. He received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot privately, but later urged Floridians to get vaccinated. However, his stance shifted later in the year when he called for a Special Session to ban mask and vaccine mandates and vowed to challenge mandates implemented at the federal level.
In the past two years, DeSantis has been involved in health care issues that could resonate strongly with Republican Primary voters. He signed into law a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape and incest, and later signed into law a ban on abortion after six weeks, although this version includes some exceptions provided the person seeking the abortion has some sort of documented proof of rape or incest. He also pushed for increased funding for cancer research in the state, calling for an additional $37 million in recurring funds to be spent on the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers Program.
As DeSantis enters the race for President, his health care record will come under closer scrutiny, particularly his handling of Medicaid and his opposition to federal health guidance during the pandemic. However, his support for expanding access to health care services and increased funding for cancer research may appeal to some voters.
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News Source : Florida Politics – Campaigns & Elections. Lobbying & Government.
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