Tall with a buzz cut and a toothy grin, Dr. Ralph Heap is a banjo-pickin' orthopedic surgeon with a handsome family and enough charisma to worry incumbent Bob Worsley in the GOP primary for state senator from deeply red Legislative District 25.
Heap also is a colossal hypocrite -- and the cat's paw of powerful politicians eager to see Worsley ousted for their own ends. But let's address the hypocrisy first.
The centerpiece of Heap's appeal to voters is his opposition to Medicaid expansion, passed in 2013, pushed by Governor Jan Brewer, and despised for ideological reasons by most GOPers in the Legislature.
Worsley was one of five Republicans in the state Senate to break ranks and vote in favor of Brewer's version of the expansion, part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
In doing so, more than 300,000 Arizonans gained access to healthcare, and the dividends already have been felt locally, with the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association reporting a dip of more than 30 percent in uncompensated hospital care as a result.
Forgoing the expansion would have meant losing an estimated $8 billion injection of cash into the economy, not to mention all the folks who would not have had access to medical care.
Hospitals are kicking in money in the form of fees to meet the state's share of the costs, and Brewer's plan does not allow passing this on to consumers. Arizona can opt out if the feds fail to meet their part of the deal. So what's not to like?
But for GOPers in the Obama age, the gub'mint always is bad, and Heap seems to be of the same mind, judging by his rhetoric.
On his campaign website, he warns, "One of the biggest problems we face today is the takeover by the federal government of our healthcare system."
Heap calls Medicaid expansion "the precursor to single-payer socialized medicine" in one piece he authored for the Sonoran Alliance website, deriding the "poor quality of care in Medicaid."
I doubt Heap was referring to the care he provides. Yet according to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Heap has been paid more than $130,000 in Medicaid funds from 2010 to 2013.
AHCCCS spokeswoman Jennifer Carusetta tells me that these payments would have been made through health plans Heap contracts with.
Does this mean that Heap had no choice but to take the money?
"AHCCCS cannot compel a provider to participate in Medicaid," Carusetta informed me. "They may choose not to, which is their business decision. There are providers in Arizona who choose not to become an AHCCCS provider."
In fact, in order to get that Medicaid money, Heap had to sign up with the state. Monica Coury, assistant director of AHCCCS' Office of Intergovernmental Relations, laid this out for me.
"Everyone who provides services to Medicaid beneficiaries and seeks reimbursement from the Medicaid program must register with the AHCCCS Administration," she explained. "There are federal requirements and clearances that we comply with. So before you can contract with a health plan, you have to register with AHCCCS."
She continued: "If you are a doctor and you choose not to serve AHCCCS members, then you simply do not register with us."
Through a public-records request, I obtained a copy of a 2009 provider participation agreement that bears Heap's signature.
Heap is one of 55,000 providers registered with AHCCCS statewide, according to Coury.
So he's been attacking his opponent for voting to expand a program that he and his fellow healthcare providers benefit from.
For example, according to AHCCCS, one institution that Heap has been associated with pulled in more than $35 million in Medicaid payments for fiscal year 2011.
And yet, in one attack piece, Heap criticized Worsley for voting for Obamacare and thereby "increasing the number of people entitled to 'free care.'"
Heap also has tried to portray Worsley, a fellow Mormon, as less "pro-life" than he is, because some Medicaid money goes to Planned Parenthood, which also is an abortion provider.
What Heap doesn't say is that federal and state law proscribe government money going to abortions, save in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother.
The right-wing argument is that if Planned Parenthood gets one cent for ordinary OB/GYN stuff, then other money it has can go for abortions of choice. In the cracked minds of some GOPers, Medicaid equals Planned Parenthood equals state-funded abortions.
(AHCCCS stats show that in FY2011, about $246,000 went to Planned Parenthood in Arizona out of $9.5 billion AHCCCS payments total, or .00259 percent.)
Arizona's Legislature has attempted to block payments to Planned Parenthood, but that effort has been vetoed by the federal courts. So Planned Parenthood in Arizona continues to receive money from AHCCCS.
But if Planned Parenthood's receiving Medicaid money was a major sticking point for Heap, why didn't he refuse, on moral grounds, to do business with health-care plans that use AHCCCS?
Sure, that would be ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than Arizona's refusing to expand Medicaid, which is what Heap and his supporters wanted done.
I caught up with Heap recently at the Leisure World Republican Club in Mesa, where he was appearing with his booster, Congressman Matt Salmon.
Despite my best efforts, Heap reacted like a deer in the headlights and refused to answer my inquiries.
His campaign manager Barbara Parker aped his thousand-yard stare. Parker is known as a vehement supporter of recalled state Senator Russell Pearce, for whom Heap is a vehicle of revenge against Worsley, who bested Pearce by 12 points in the 2012 GOP primary for the state Senate.
I'm told Pearce has been spotted around Mesa planting signs paid for by the Arizona Taxpayers Action Committee, a pro-Heap independent-expenditure committee, which also sponsors Pearce's Saturday night radio show on 960 AM.
Who is the largest donor to ATAC this campaign cycle? Pearce, who has given more than $4,200 so far.
One of the ludicrous claims on the ATAC signs is that Worsley voted for "medical for illegals," though both state and federal law prevent the undocumented from receiving Medicaid benefits.
Despite avowals by Heap campaign consultant Chris Baker that Pearce lover Constantin Querard, the alleged architect of Pearce's 2011 scandal involving sham candidate Olivia Cortes, no longer is involved in Heap's bid for office, the campaign has paid one of Querard's companies about $8,000 this year, with one payment going to Querard as recently as May.
Via e-mail, Baker claimed it was payment for old work. See, Heap has gone to great lengths to distance himself from Pearce, even taking down a photo of the two of them together from his Facebook page, after I referenced it in a blog item.
Baker, also a consultant to Salmon, reputedly is involved in Heap's campaign at Salmon's request. The scuttlebutt is, Salmon worries that Worsley, the multi-millionaire founder of SkyMall, may decide to run for Congress against him one day. Heap is a way to bump off the competition.
When I asked Salmon at the Leisure World event whether this was true, his head seemed close to exploding.
"That's probably the stupidest thing I've ever heard," he sputtered.
I replied that the rumor was out there.
"You know what?" he shot back. "Elvis showing up at the doughnut shop last week's out there, too. And they're both equally stupid."
Methinks the congressman protests too much. Plus, everyone knows that Elvis is alive and prefers fried chicken and waffles to doughnuts any day.
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