Blog: Stark falls to fellow Democrat; opening created on health panel

One of the casualties from last week's congressional elections is a familiar face in the healthcare industry: Rep. Pete Stark, the California Democrat who currently serves as the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee's ranking member and is widely known for the three-part physician self-referral law that bears his name.

A longtime champion of a single-payer healthcare system, Stark—who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 8th, 9th and currently 13th district of California since 1973—was beaten by Eric Swalwell, a fellow Democrat, to represent the Golden State's 15th district. In the healthcare industry, Stark's influence largely stems from his work drafting legislation that governs physician self-referral in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The first phase prohibited physician self-referral for clinical lab services in Medicare starting in 1992, and additional phases became effective in 1994 and 2007, as the law eventually expanded to other healthcare services and also applied to Medicaid.

From 2007 to 2010, Stark served as the subcommittee's chairman. His departure now leaves open the health subcommittee ranking-member spot on the hugely influential panel that makes tax law.

Former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) served in Congress from 1983 to 1995 and said recent reapportionment in California turned many congressional seats upside down this year. “A lot of these folks found themselves running in districts they were not familiar with,” said Slattery, now a partner at the Washington law firm of Wiley Rein. That list includes Stark, who already experienced re-districting twice before.

As Slattery explained, the ranking order of minority members on the Ways and Means Committee purely by seniority starts with Charlie Rangel of New York, then follows with Sander Levin of Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, John Lewis of Georgia, and Xavier Becerra of California. Rangel, former chairman of the full committee when his party was in the majority, took a leave of absence from that position in 2010 pending an investigation that eventually found he had violated House ethics and federal rules. Levin took up the post as chairman and now serves as the ranking member of the full committee even though Rangel has greater seniority. Slattery speculated Monday that McDermott, a psychiatrist who represents Washington's 7th district, is a likely candidate for the vacant ranking member spot on the health subcommittee.

“Pete was a strong proponent of a single-payer national health insurance plan,” Slattery said, adding, “I think whoever succeeds him will probably be less ideologically committed to a single-payer plan than Pete Stark.”

You can follow Jessica on Twitter @MHJZigmond.



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