Charlie Crist, in bid for Florida governor, homes in on policies for seniors

Crist is the first Florida gubernatorial candidate this season to put out a policy plan focused just on seniors, an active voting population.
Charlie Crist, candidate for Governor of Florida, speaks during a barbecue event held by the Century Village Democratic club in Deerfield Beach on July 25.
Charlie Crist, candidate for Governor of Florida, speaks during a barbecue event held by the Century Village Democratic club in Deerfield Beach on July 25.
Published Jan. 5, 2022|Updated Jan. 5, 2022

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Wednesday announced a multiprong policy plan targeting the health and wellness of seniors, becoming the first gubernatorial candidate this season to put out a campaign platform focused on the state’s aging population.

More than 20 percent of Floridians are 65 and older. This group is also the most active voting population, making them an important demographic for political candidates.

Christ, who at 65 is the oldest candidate running for Florida governor, said that, unlike Gov. Ron DeSantis, he’d expand Medicaid to ensure additional Floridians had access to health care. Florida is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. Crist said as governor he’d veto any state budget that did not include Medicaid expansion.

His platform also includes lowering the cost of prescription drugs, paying for home renovations like wheelchair ramps through Medicaid, spot-checking nursing homes to make sure regulations are being enforced, making it easier to vote by mail and restoring cost-of-living adjustments for the Florida Retirement System.

Crist sought to set his platform in contrast with that of DeSantis, who is running for reelection and has already amassed a campaign war chest with tens of millions more dollars available than any Democratic candidate.

“Governor DeSantis has rejected Medicaid expansion and lowering drug costs, he’s made it harder for seniors to cast their ballots safely during a pandemic, he’s ignored our nursing homes and the workers caring for our loved ones, and he’s recklessly endangered older Floridians with his soft-on-COVID policies,” Crist said in a statement. “Enough is enough.”

Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida, said DeSantis’ Seniors First plan made sure the state’s older residents were first to get COVID vaccines, and that DeSantis requested $1.1 billion in additional federal Medicaid funds for the next two years to help poor, disabled and aging Floridians make home improvements and purchase technology.

“Charlie Crist should look at his lackluster record while in Congress,” Ferré said in a statement. “His new plan is behind the game when it comes to protecting Florida’s seniors and they know it.”

Crist highlighted his previous action as governor to create the Florida Discount Drug Card, which was initially meant for seniors and low-income Florida residents but later expanded to all Floridians.

He also highlighted his work around the guardianship program. This summer, he filed the “Free Britney Act,” meant to give people under conservatorships more freedom of choice. Part of his platform says he’ll crack down on unnecessary guardianships, though it wasn’t immediately clear how.

Crist said as governor he’d seek to establish a prescription drug affordability board that would request and review information from drug manufacturers about their pricing. He also said he’d allow for cheaper prescriptions to be imported from Canada. The move to import cheaper drugs from Canada has also been promoted by DeSantis, who signed a bill allowing for it in 2019.

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Crist’s platform also says he will hold nursing home owners accountable for having all staff up to date on COVID-19 vaccines, including booster shots. Crist has previously sided with President Joe Biden and urged the state to require vaccines or weekly testing of government employees. He has also required his campaign staff to be vaccinated.

Crist said he would want to ensure paid sick days for workers in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and home health care so they don’t put seniors at risk.

As part of his plan to expand access for seniors, he said he would roll back the latest voting bill passed in Tallahassee that restricts vote-by-mail and drop boxes.

Related: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs Florida voting bill in front of Trump fan club

He said that as governor he would increase the health insurance subsidy for state retirees, especially as Medicare premiums rise.

“At a time when prices are up, it’s not fair to let inflation continuously eat up the hard-earned retirement benefits for firefighters, teachers or police officers who spent their career serving our state,” Crist’s policy said.

Florida will elect its next governor in 2022. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo are running with Crist in the Democratic primary. DeSantis, a Republican, is running for reelection.

A spokesperson for Taddeo’s campaign said she’s pushed for paid sick leave in Florida’s legislature. Taddeo has not put out a specific policy platform about seniors.

“Sen. Taddeo is running for governor because her fight in the Legislature has been to expand Medicaid and ensure Floridians have an accessible health care system that lowers prescription drug costs” for seniors, said spokesperson Nicholas Merlino.

Fried’s campaign did not return an email Wednesday afternoon requesting comment.