Florida Backroom Briefing: DeSantis Delivering Bitter Pill to PhRMA


Stephen J. Ubl, Ron DeSantis and Christopher Pettit

Stephen J. Ubl, Ron DeSantis and Christopher Pettit

PhRMA President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen J. Ubl is the latest in the guise of Don Quixote, tilting at a windmill as he takes on one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ priorities.

Ubl, head of what is officially known as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, sent a letter to DeSantis that politely congratulated the Republican governor on hitting a recent milestone of his first 100 days in office.

“I look forward to working alongside you to ensure Floridians have access to affordable medicines and hope you will not hesitate to call upon me if I can ever be of assistance,” Ubl wrote.

Then Ubl asked DeSantis for what seems impossible — a veto of a bill (HB 19) that could lead to importing lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. DeSantis pushed for the legislation, which also was a priority of House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.

“When this bill is officially sent to your desk, I encourage you to consider vetoing it.,” Ubl wrote in the letter Friday. “While your goal of lowering the costs of prescription medicines for Floridians is one I share, the biopharmaceutical industry has serious concerns with any proposal that could put patient safety at risk.”

Ubl outlined several alternatives to the Canadian drug importation program.

“First, we believe that patients should benefit from the more than $166 billion in rebates and discounts provided to insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, the government and other entities in the supply chain in 2018,” he wrote. “On average, 40 percent of the list price of medicines are given as rebates, but too often, patients never reap the benefits of these discounts. Ensuring they do is one step you can take to provide relief to the Floridians struggling to afford their medicines.”

The drug-importation program was a hotly contested issue during the 2019 legislative session, which ended Saturday. DeSantis joked that the bill was a “stimulus” for Tallahassee lobbyists who were hired by the pharmaceutical industry to try to kill the proposal.

DeSantis met Monday in Washington with President Donald Trump and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to discuss the importation plan, which requires federal approval.

As of Thursday morning, DeSantis hadn’t formally received the bill from the Legislature; once he does, he will have 15 days to sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

“Usually people never want to touch prescription drugs because you see all the stuff coming down,” DeSantis told reporters Saturday, referring to an ad blitz blasting the drug-importation plan. “But we said, let’s just do the right thing. Let’s hang in there, and that will be better for Florida. I think there was just a lot of opportunities to lead, and I took them, but then these guys in the Legislature took them as well, so that’s a good thing.”


Shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, DeSantis’ office announced that he had signed a controversial bill that allows armed classroom teachers. But the governor dismissed a suggestion that the timing of the bill-signing announcement was related to the attention focused Wednesday night on a Trump campaign rally in Panama City Beach.

“If you think I engineered a Trump rally to distract from a bill, no, I said I was for the bill from the beginning,” DeSantis replied to a reporter’s question while appearing Thursday morning at the Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville. “I urged the Legislature to pass it in my State of the State (address).”

The bill (SB 7030) includes expansion of the school “guardian” program, one of the most controversial issues of this year’s legislative session. The announcement of the signing came as Trump was touching down to tour Tyndall Air Force Base with DeSantis and other officials before heading to the rally.

DeSantis said he was surprised there was any mystery about his plans for the bill, which was formally sent from the Legislature to his desk on Wednesday. He also indicated he might eventually hold a bill-signing event.

Earlier in the week, DeSantis praised the Legislature for implementing “dozens of school safety recommendations” made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, noting the recommendations included expansion of the guardian program. The Legislature formed the commission last year to investigate the February 2018 mass shooting at the Parkland high school and to recommend ways to make schools safer.


Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried vowed to keep pushing for funding for the agriculture industry after landing $4 million in the new state budget (SB 2500) to help farmers implement best management practices, which include “cost-effective actions to conserve water and reduce pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants entering our water systems.”

The total is down from $5 million that was set aside in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and far less than the $25 million that Fried had sought from the Legislature.

“We have some serious and complex challenges to address, from toxic blue algae, to poisonous red tide, to reducing nutrient pollution, to conserving our precious water supply,” Fried said Tuesday while in West Palm Beach to announce Chris Pettit as her new “water czar.” “This is the challenge of our generation, and it is so important to get it right.”

Fried isn’t the only one characterizing the 2019 legislative session as “frustrating” for the state’s agricultural industry, which suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in damages from Hurricane Irma in 2017 and $1.5 billion in damages from Hurricane Michael last year.

Gary Cooper, founder and president of Gainesville-based AgNet Media, wrote Tuesday that “the state’s farmers and ranchers wonder where they stand in a political environment that is much different than years past.”

“Florida’s population continues to grow with about 1,000 new residents daily, with no end in sight,” Cooper wrote. “The negative environmental impacts from this historic pace of urban expansion, on top of water and development problems that previous years of unbridled urban growth have already caused, is becoming obvious to more Floridians each day. The state’s political leaders simply have not kept up with problems that the many years of constant urban growth have brought to the state.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Last night reminded me of the 2017 Super Bowl. Patriots down by 25, came back for the win. Thank you@RepFitzenhagen and @Senator_Book for taking the Human Trafficking Bill across the goal line.” — Attorney General Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody), referring to efforts by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, and Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, to pass a human-trafficking measure late Friday night, shortly before most legislative action ended.