In the late 1980s, U.S. Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) was among the few public officials demanding greater accountability from the Medicare and Medicaid programs he believed were being scammed by fraudulent healthcare providers.
Stark's concerns about widespread healthcare fraud led to a number of congressional hearings and legislative initiatives to detect, combat and prevent healthcare fraud, including physician self-referral laws that now bear his name. Stark says he became interested in healthcare fraud during the Reagan administration when government prosecutors complained that they had a hard time attaining convictions from the Medicare antikickback statute passed in 1972. "We needed to redefine or expand the kickback law," he says.
Despite a shoot-from-the-hip style that has earned him criticism from healthcare provider associations, Stark, 69, enjoys a high profile as a respected and feared protector of government programs.
He's recognized in the healthcare field for more than his antifraud efforts. His version of a healthcare reform bill to provide universal coverage did not succeed but won him points for maintaining private insurance and employer-based coverage. And his fingerprints are all over the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1986, with a program that allowed those laid off from jobs to continue to qualify for employer-based health insurance coverage.