Republican Ralph Heap, 62, of Mesa, confirmed this afternoon that he will announce his candidacy for Legislative District 25’s Senate seat a Tea Party forum on Monday.
Heap’s choice of venue to kick start his candidacy is instructive: He told the Arizona Capitol Times that Worsley’s support for expanding Medicaid in Arizona is the “genesis” of his decision to take on the incumbent senator.
“I think Mr. Worsley campaigned as a conservative, and I just don’t feel like he’s responded that way in his time in the Senate,” he said. “I’m an orthopedic surgeon. I’m particularly disturbed by the Medicaid expansion and the facilitating of Obamacare in Arizona.”
Heap, who received his M.D. from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in 1978, has been practicing for 30 years.
The debate over whether to accept federal funding to expand healthcare in Arizona deeply divided the Republican Party last session.
Worsley was among a group of legislators who sided with Gov. Jan Brewer and, along with help from Democrats, approved the governor’s healthcare expansion plan, angering some of the party’s conservative base.
Critics of the healthcare law argued that it means another government expansion, and somebody will have to pick up that tab, sooner or later. They also said the federal government can’t be trusted to keep its end of the bargain, and if federal funds ran out, Arizona will be left with a gigantic mess.
But Worsley said he’s unperturbed by Heap’s entry into the race.
He said he promised his district he would make the best decision based on available facts.
“I’ve done that, and I’ll let the chips fall where they may. I didn’t want to run for office, I was asked to. And I will serve as long as the voters in Mesa want me there,” he said.
The incumbent senator, who defeated conservative icon Russell Pearce in last year’s GOP primary, defended his vote and said his reasons are more complicated than the prevailing narrative.
He said it was a good business decision for the state and hospitals because it would help hospitals struggling to cope with uncompensated care.
For Worsley, hospitals and states have been long been saddled by the country’s decision to provide healthcare first and think about how to pay for it later.
In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which guaranteed healthcare for anybody who shows up in an emergency room.
“At that point, we gave the entitlement, and ever since then, we have been trying to figure out how to pay for it,” he said.
Worsley said Arizona experimented with ways to pay for this “entitlement,” first through county hospitals and later via the Arizona Health Care Containment Cost System, the state’s Medicaid program.
That money ran out in 2009, he noted, and Arizona was thereafter forced to freeze the enrolment of a huge segment of the AHCCCS population.
The federal government’s offer to pay an enhanced share for the healthcare of low-income Arizonans made the most economic sense, he said.
“It was literally a financial great decision to compensate the hospitals for this unfunded mandate from 1986, under Ronald Reagan, with a formula that works for the state’s budget,” he said, adding that when Brewer laid out her proposal and explained her rationale, he supported it right away.
Economists he had spoken also indicated that accepting the federal funding and expanding AHCCCS was the single most important decision policymakers could make to balance the state budget for the next three to five years, he said.