THE VILLAGES, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo spoke in The Villages. Signage at the event read “Lower Drug Prices.” He announced a legislative proposal aimed at lowering drug prices and holding pharmacy managers to account and “rein them in.”

Lowering the costs of pharmaceuticals for Floridians has been a goal and priority of the DeSantis administration since he first became governor.

In July, the governor announced a new drug price transparency initiative, and in August, state officials filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration over delays related to cost mitigation efforts that began in 2020.

DeSantis said the FDA had “stonewalled” Florida for years over the issue of importing less expensive pharmaceuticals to the state. He said the FDA wasn’t as concerned over safety, a claim he said was made regarding delays for the drugs, over mRNA shots for children.

“We’d start with using state programs, it’d save us tens of millions of dollars, probably over a hundred million dollars” DeSantis said. “But we’ve got to get to a point where our consumers, in America, are treated equitably, because we pay so much more than other countries.”

The governor said Florida was fighting in court to succeed, and accused the FDA of fighting in court to defend pharmaceutical companies.

“We understand that we can’t put all of our eggs in one basket. You have a lot of issues. If you look at Bidenflation,” DeSantis said. “From July 2021 to July 2022, the average price increase for prescription drugs, 31.6% increase. The inflation is bad enough as it is, and that’s even above the general inflation rate.”

The governor described it as a big issue for Florida residents, especially its senior citizens, and that officials had seen it as being “so much bureaucracy, middlemen, just built up over the years,” harming consumers and small businesses.

“Last year I did an executive order to bring more accountability with pharmaceuticals for state contracts, and that was really ordering our agencies to get in line when they negotiate these things,” DeSantis said. “Like when they take on Pharmacy Benefit Managers, PBMs is what they’re called. These are the middlemen who operate between the system.”

DeSantis said they had to change this throughout the state, but an executive order wouldn’t be able to accomplish it on its own. Instead, he said he would need the help of the legislature to do the job that was needed, announcing a legislative proposal to “rein in these unchecked” PBMs.

Under the proposal, DeSantis said the state wanted to regulate spread pricing, steering, and prohibiting reimbursement clawbacks.

DeSantis also said that the state would also work to prevent pharmacy benefit managers from pushing consumers and patients toward specific drugs or mail-in pharmacies, keeping them from shopping around and finding a different place “best for you.”

“We also want to make sure we protect a lot of the smaller pharmacies in particular from surprise bills and clawbacks from PBMs,” DeSantis said. “What’ll happen is, months after a prescription is filled, they’ll get hit with increased bills that they’ll have to pay to PBMs.”

The governor alleged that to meet those cost needs, pharmacies would charge more, passing costs to consumers, creating “an upward pressure.” He said spread pricing, where customers are charged more than a prescription costs and then keep the difference, amounted to skimming money from customers and needed to be stopped. DeSantis said the proposed regulations would be a victory for “community-based pharmacies.”

Then, the governor said problems with healthcare were the massive entities that control it, such as “Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Government.” He said people shouldn’t have to rely on “one big corporate chain” for everything, with the state increasing costs to register as a PBM to “ensure more comprehensive evaluation” happens before they can work in Florida.

Ladapo spoke after the governor, saying the cost of prescriptions was a huge problem for many Americans and as a doctor, it was something he’s seen firsthand.

“It’s an enormous problem. The governor and our lawmakers are proposing an approach that has multiple, multiple strategies, multiple inlets,” Ladapo said, referring back to an event in Polk County to import drugs. “This is another piece of the puzzle, with prescription benefit managers. Unfortunately the healthcare industry is a big tangled mess. Anyone who has been sick and has to interact with it closely, thank goodness, we’re all very grateful for the technology we have access to, but it was one big ugly complicated, convoluted system.”

Ladapo said the proposed legislation was great, then highlighted how his position as surgeon general let him work with the governor.

“I want to highlight the fact that one of the things I love about my position as surgeon general is I get to work with Gov. DeSantis, and he’s a man who actually, genuinely has your interest, my interest, at heart,” Ladapo said, describing the nation’s capital as a place “crawling around with, is just crawling full of people who don’t care about you and me. That is a fact.”

Ladapo said multiple medical lobbies “unfortunately” were setting the priorities in Washington, mentioning the American Hospital Association, among others. He said despite healthcare benefits, people “play the blame game” in America, and that PBMs blame the pharmaceutical companies, while the companies say they must charge a lot over research costs.

“Well, what are you gonna say about that? We want the medications, they help people, we want the treatment, except for the mRNA COVID shots,” Ladapo said. “I want to dispel a myth, that is part of this cascade of lies and misdirection that you see anytime healthcare reform comes up. The myth is that pharmaceutical companies are spending a lot of money on research and development, and that’s why we have a lot of new drugs. The fact that has been published by different groups of researchers, is that most of the innovation in terms of drugs that has been happening in this country comes not from the pharmaceutical industry but happens in universities.”

Ladapo said that companies do a service by manufacturing the medicine, but it’s a lie that they did all the work they take credit for.

“It’s a total lie, the research is mostly NIH funded, and we paid for that,” Ladapo said. “Those are tax dollars that are paying for that research, the primary research that is driving most of the innovation in the pharmaceutical space.”

The surgeon general added that while the lie “smells good, it’s very pretty,” it was still “a total lie” and called it a “ridiculous racket.”

Before focusing on the drug price proposal, lowering drug prices for Floridians, DeSantis briefly weighed in on recent reports that the federal government was considering changes to gas stove regulation. While a consumer advocate agency had recommended making changes for future stove production due to safety concerns over asthma and potential pollution, the U.S. government had not made announcements that they would “take away” the stoves.

DeSantis said in Florida, it was residents’ choice, and they could keep their stoves if they want to.

In a Q&A session after the main event, DeSantis was asked about efforts to handle the influx of migrants coming into the Florida Keys. Asked about comments from the White House that deploying the Florida National Guard was a political stunt, DeSantis said the U.S. Coast Guard had requested state assistance to respond to the vessels coming in.

“I think what we’ve done, we’ve been very aggressive at mitigating the damage from Biden’s disastrous border policies,” DeSantis said. “Part of it is the message that’s gone out that the rules don’t matter, just show up and you’re fine. You can’t run a country like that.”

The governor said 300 migrants had been brought to the Florida Keys and left vessels there, while Florida provided assistance and cleared the boats free of charge to residents, but that “the reality is this is not the way you run a country.”

He described the USCG as stretched thin and said he’d been told they would not be getting additional resources.

Circling to a current federal lawsuit where Florida is suing the Biden administration over border policies, DeSantis said the state had made progress in court, and said the policies were intentional while also being poor choices.

“Yes, there’s a lot of ineptitude involved, but this is really intentional, to have this happening,” DeSantis said. “The purpose of this is the way they’re able to do the open border is people come across and give them parole.”

Calling the catch and release policy unlawful, DeSantis said the government can’t just “do it blanket” for the migrants coming over. He expects the court to rule in Florida’s favor as far as the border policy is concerned.

The next question was focused on purchases of farmland by the Chinese Communist Party. During the 2023 legislative session, DeSantis said the legislature would ban their purchasing land near military bases and other locations, then upgraded it to all of the state, or “as broad as possible.”

Turning back to border security, DeSantis said President Joe Biden’s recent trip to the southern border “was a total fraud” and alleged the town that was visited is normally a “shanty town,” full of “tents” and that it had been swept clean for the presidential visit.

Weighing in on recent plans to regulate the land surrounding Walt Disney World, DeSantis said the debate had always been “between state control or local control.” The governor said he had settled on a state controlled board because of a concern over counties raising taxes on residents to handle municipal debt.

“The corporate kingdom has come to an end, and that will be the case when this is enacted,” DeSantis said. “They’re on the hook for the debt. Remember the media, when we first did this, ‘oh, now the taxpayers of Florida will have to pay all these debts?’ That is not going to happen.”

DeSantis said businesses and corporations should not control their own governments, and said the company would “be displaced from control,” with governing powers open for negotiation with local governments “and perhaps transfer in due time,” and so long as the debts are honored and no additional burdens placed on other taxpayers.

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