Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in late 2016 appointed to the state’s Rural Health Task Force a former physician and Miller campaign donor who had his medical license revoked or suspended in three states.
In Iowa, Rick Ray Redalen’s medical license was first suspended when he was convicted of perjury in a case involving his marriage to his 15-year-old former stepdaughter. The license was later revoked for good for failure to report a malpractice suit, medical board records show.
Redalen, who calls himself “the Maverick Doctor,” said he was introduced to Miller several years ago by Todd M. Smith, a lobbyist who has reported making hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redalen’s company and is Miller’s longtime political strategist.
Redalen, who donated heavily to Miller’s campaign months before his appointment, said he has used the unpaid task force position to advocate for expanded access to telemedicine — a service offered by one of his companies. Redalen said he never expected any favors in exchange for his contributions to Miller.
Miller “is one of the first actual political people that I have met that talks constantly about improving health care in rural Texas and among rural Texans. Most people aren’t interested in that,” Redalen, 75, said.
Redalen said his No. 1 priority on the task force is “making telemedicine easier.” Through telemedicine, patients can consult with and get diagnosed by doctors or nurses through video on their phones or computers.
Although the Legislature last year passed a law expanding access to those services, Redalen said it came with so many restrictions that it won’t change the industry in a significant way.
“Present laws they have just don’t do the trick,” he said.
Redalen’s company, Quest Global Benefits, provides employer health care services for employers. Its website lists products including education, advocacy and telemedicine, which it describes as “quick and easy access to a nurse, and when necessary, a doctor to discuss and diagnose an employee’s ailment.”
Redalen said the changes he’s pushing for “probably wouldn’t help my business at all.”
“I could have retired years ago. I don’t need the money,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is help people in Texas get better health care.”
Craig McDonald, director of the left-leaning ethics watchdog Texans for Public Justice, said the arrangement “looks like a pay-to-play situation.”
“The good doctor — through Todd Smith, a lobbyist and a Sid Miller confidant — has given a lot of money to get a position on this advisory board to promote his own private company’s agenda,” McDonald said. “The whole tele-doc industry is mostly for-profit, and it has an economic piece in changing the policy on the extent to which we allow telemedicine to come into Texas.”
Buck Wood, a lawyer who helped write many of Texas’ ethics laws, said the situation “sure stinks to high heaven.”
“If the advisory board had any sort of clout so that it could do things, then we’d have a problem,” Wood said. “But if it’s purely advisory, he could go in there and promote his business because that’s all he’s doing. He’s not taking any action.”
Redalen said he so far has attended only one meeting of the task force, which met in Austin to discuss rural health care but did not take any action.
The task force reports to the Texas Rural Health and Economic Development Advisory Council, which the Legislature created in 2011 to review the state’s “rural policies and programs” and make recommendations on how to distribute federal grants.
State law says that the task force “shall assist the advisory council in its efforts to expand and improve access to health care in rural areas of this state; and develop a statewide rural health plan for this state that includes: strategic initiatives for this state regarding rural health; and recommendations for legislation and program development.”
The law says the task force is supposed to consist of “all or a portion of the members of the advisory council.”
A December 2016 appointment letter from Miller, however, indicates he selected Redalen for the task force, but not the council. It is not clear how or why Redalen was not tapped to be a member of the council as well. He is not listed on the council’s website.
Redalen spoke with the Statesman twice but stopped responding to calls on Friday. Smith and Miller have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
‘My good friend’
Quest Global Benefits has paid Smith between $200,000 and $250,000 every year since 2015, according to lobbying activity reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Redalen donated $5,000 to Miller’s campaign in January 2016 and $12,000 in July 2016. Miller appointed Redalen to the task force in December of that year.
In July of 2017, Miller reported an $80,000 in-kind contribution from Redalen for “Use of Prevost Motor Home Bus.” During the 2016 presidential race, Redalen said he campaigned for Donald Trump by touring in his bus, which features an image of Redalen’s face along with messages opposing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
In October 2016, Miller posted photos of the bus on Facebook with a note praising Redalen.
“I want to thank my good friend, Dr. Rick Redalen (AKA Dr. Maverick) for the wonderful work he is doing in helping educate the people of our country about the threat of four more years of ObamaCare,” Miller wrote. “Dr. Rick is recognized around the world for being an innovator in healthcare technology. He is an important advisor to me and my State Office of Rural Health and is a strong supporter of #DonaldTrump.”
Redalen said he doesn’t remember Miller using the bus for campaign purposes and isn’t sure why Miller would have reported it on his campaign finance disclosures.
The in-kind contribution is the largest donation Miller’s campaign has ever reported.
Redalen said he has become good friends with Miller. “I really enjoyed his company and have since got to spend time with he and his wife, Debra,” he said.
Redalen even joined Miller on the commissioner’s March 2017 trip to Israel, which made international headlines after Miller signed a declaration of cooperation with Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are not legally recognized by the United States or the United Nations.
“We made a business trip to Israel, and he just is a consummate politician who brings the very, very best in the state forward to these other countries,” Redalen said. “We met a lot of business leaders … people who wanted to do business in the United States but weren’t sure how to do it.”
Miller’s relationship with Redalen isn’t his first involvement with doctors that has raised questions.
In February 2015, shortly after taking office, Miller charged the state $1,100 for a trip to Oklahoma in which he received a pain-killing treatment called the “Jesus Shot” that was created by Dr. John Michael Lonergan, who goes by “Dr. Mike” and previously had his medical license in Ohio revoked after being convicted of tax evasion.
A Houston Chronicle story on the trip prompted a criminal investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s office. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, saying that they would difficulty proving in court that Miller had criminal intent for charging taxpayers for the trip.
Redalen said that, although he is aware Miller has chronic pain caused by his days as a rodeo cowboy, Miller has never asked him for medical advice or treatment.
“He doesn’t pick my brain for anything in medicine,” Redalen said. “He is a true Texas gentleman.”
Redalen has not practiced medicine for years but hit it big in the medical business nonetheless. In 1996, he founded a company called QuestRx, which now goes by ExitCare and was sold to Elsevier in 2012. The company provides a widely used tool that provides information to patients as they are discharged from medical facilities.
As a doctor, Redalen worked in emergency rooms and as a primary care doctor and has had his license suspended or revoked in Minnesota, Iowa and Louisiana.
The disciplinary action against Redalen by Minnesota’s medical board was due to “psychiatric and drug problems,” according to a 1995 Des Moines Register article.
Redalen’s legal troubles in Iowa stemmed from his relationship with his stepdaughter, whom he married in Tarrant County while on a trip to Texas in September 1988. He had been married to her mother, who committed suicide in 1987. In 1986, Redalen pleaded guilty to assault after authorities said he struck his wife with a rifle butt and pointed a gun at sheriff’s deputies, according to the Register article.
Redalen did not answer detailed questions about his past, but he said that his problems in Iowa were invented by enemies who were jealous because he was the “most popular doctor in town.” He said that the relationship with his former stepdaughter was not romantic and that he married her to get her out of a “lock-up” for “delinquents” that she had been placed in.
The girl’s former legal guardian, however, said at the time that she did not believe they married as a matter of convenience.
“I felt that they got married because they wanted to and they cared about each other,” the guardian, Louise Lorenz, told the Register in 1989.
After a 1989 court proceeding, Redalen told reporters, “Right now we seem to have a very enjoyable relationship that fulfills a large part of our lives since” the mother’s suicide.
Redalen was arrested after returning to Iowa following the Texas trip and was eventually convicted of perjury for lying about his knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts, medical board records and news articles say. Although the case was not related to his medical career, the Iowa medical board suspended his license for two years because he had pleaded guilty to a felony.
In 1995, after Redalen had moved to Louisiana, the medical board in that state revoked his license after accusations that he abused drugs and alcohol.