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Remembering Pete Stark

Representative Fortney H. (Pete) Stark served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years (1972 -2012) representing California’s East Bay communities. For 28 of those years, he served as Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, where he helped enact many of America's most important health reform laws including, but not limited to: EMTALA, which protects access to emergency rooms; COBRA, which allows millions of Americans to maintain their health insurance when separating from work; the so-called “Stark Laws,” which strictly limit physician self-referral in order to discourage fraud and cost escalation; and the Affordable Care Act, which is now providing millions of Americans affordable health insurance coverage that cannot be restricted based on pre-existing health conditions.

"I hope the Pete Stark Health Policy Intern can continue to advance comprehensive efforts to improve our health care system so it truly provides affordable, quality coverage to all,” said Mr. Stark. 

 

Pete Stark passed away on January 24, 2020. Please visit petestarkmemorial.com to read his official obituary.

 

Health Policy Leadership

Mr. Stark is primarily known for leadership in health legislation. He became chair of the Health Subcommittee in 1985, at what may be considered a golden era of bipartisan, technical support for Medicare. With the help of Ranking Member Representative Willis (Bill) Gradison, the Health Subcommittee used the budget reconciliation process to pass major bipartisan health legislation, extending the life of the Medicare Trust Funds and making payment and anti-fraud reforms that saved, over time, hundreds of billions of dollars and resulted in much lower costs for taxpayers and beneficiaries. Included in this process was COBRA, which has helped tens of millions of people continue their health insurance, and EMTALA, which has stopped hospitals from turning away uninsured critically ill patients and mothers-in-labor from their emergency rooms. He enacted the so-called "Stark Laws," anti-fraud protections generally prohibiting providers from over-referring patients for services in places where the provider has a financial conflict of interest. Mr. Stark and Mr. Gradison helped pass the Medicare Catastrophic law in 1988. While most of this law was subsequently repealed, key provisions were maintained that created major consumer protections in the Medicare Supplemental health insurance (Medigap) market and the creation of the Medicare savings programs that cover or reduce premiums and cost-sharing for lower income Medicare beneficiaries.

Throughout his career at the Health Subcommittee, Mr. Stark was a leader in promoting universal health care. In the Bush, Clinton, and eventually the Obama era health reform proposals, Mr. Stark and his Subcommittee led the way in reporting out legislation that would finance and guarantee every American a minimum level of affordable health insurance. In 2007, the Commonwealth Fund found Mr. Stark’s AmeriCare legislation would cover the most people of all introduced bills and would also provide the highest net savings to the country. AmeriCare is the basis of several leading health reform packages being discussed today, including the Center for American Progress’ Medicare Extra proposal.   

The Affordable Care Act was a key achievement in that it took away the power for health insurers to avoid covering people who need health care. From COBRA, to EMTALA, HIPAA, and the ACA, our health system better protects people today than in the past, but all of these are still patchworks.

 

Beyond Health Policy

Mr. Stark was outspoken and active in many areas beyond health policy. After a flight with a young Steve Jobs in the early 1980’s, he enacted what became known as the “Apple tax credit” to provide an enhanced tax deduction to companies that donate computers to schools. He was a consistent, outspoken opponent of war. He won passage of a tax on ozone-destroying chemicals in the late 1980’s driving the development of less harmful alternatives. He led efforts to enact a carbon tax – across several decades: an idea that continues to gain traction in the United States and around the world. He helped revise the tax code in 1986, eliminating many tax deductions and shelters and simplifying the tax code. He has worked to improve the lives of America’s foster children, enact paid family leave, end discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in adoptions, and protect Social Security. 

Mr. Stark was married to Deborah Roderick Stark and had seven children. Mr. Stark was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, graduated from MIT, served in the Air Force, earned an MBA from UC Berkeley, and settled in California's East Bay where he became a community banker. In 1972, he won the Democratic primary on an anti-Vietnam war platform, and was subsequently re-elected nineteen times.