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DeSantis and Newsom health care policies could be front and center in their debate

The governors of Florida and California will go toe-to-toe in a debate Thursday.
 
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. [ Associated Press ]
Published Nov. 28, 2023|Updated Nov. 29, 2023

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom — political rivals from opposite coasts and proxies for red and blue America — are set to square off for a first-of-its-kind debate Nov. 30 in Georgia.

Newsom, a liberal firebrand in his second term as governor of California, isn’t running for president in 2024. But he goaded DeSantis, in his second term as governor of Florida, to go mano a mano. “I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray,” he taunted on social media.

The matchup promises to be a heated brawl between rising political stars who lead two of the nation’s most populous and diverse states. And it will mark the first time the politicians meet in person even as they have very publicly traded barbs and insults, in recent weeks attacking each other in fundraising videos and campaign ads.

Front and center will be homelessness and health care, top priorities for voters — and issues that have largely defined the governors’ policies and leadership styles. From abortion to COVID-19 vaccines, Newsom and DeSantis could not be further apart.

Earlier this year, DeSantis blasted California for being too generous with public benefit programs, such as Medicaid, which the Golden State has expanded to all eligible residents regardless of immigration status. That sweeping policy takes effect in January and goes well beyond the optional expansion of Medicaid that the Affordable Care Act offered states. In Florida, one of 10 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, DeSantis wears the state’s 11% rate of uninsured residents as a badge of honor.

“We’re not going to be like California and have massive numbers of people on government programs without work requirements,” DeSantis said at a presidential primary debate in Southern California earlier this year.

DeSantis has led his state to restrict abortion and gender-affirming care and to ban COVID-related mask and vaccine mandates.

Newsom, a slick and brash surrogate for Democratic President Joe Biden, has slammed DeSantis for putting Floridians in danger and stripping them of their rights.

“Join us in California, where we still believe in freedom,” Newsom said in a political ad earlier this year.

Newsom has earned the moniker of “health care governor” by catapulting the issue to the top of his policy priorities. He made California an abortion sanctuary and is dramatically expanding health care benefits. He had promised to bring single-payer health care to the nation’s most populous state while campaigning for his first term, but that idea hit stiff political opposition early in his tenure. And now Newsom boasts about bringing the state’s uninsured rate to an all-time low of 6.5% by expanding coverage in other ways.

These issues are expected to take center stage during the nationally televised 90-minute debate on Fox News, which could have major reverberations for the presidential contest next year and could even help shape the 2028 field of White House contenders.

In advance of the showdown, KFF Health News analyzed 10 of the governors’ top health care positions and how their policies have improved — or hindered — the health of the residents they represent.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. KFF Health News is the publisher of California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

How to watch

Fox News will host a 90-minute debate between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday. It will be moderated by Fox News host Sean Hannity and aired on Fox News Channel and Fox News Radio.