In his more than three decades in Congress, Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) has earned himself a reputation as a staunch liberal, consistently taking a progressive stance on controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage. To those in healthcare, his name may have even more contentious associations—considering that the laws prohibiting physician referrals to certain types of clinical facilities in which the doctors have financial interests are named for him.
But Stark's legacy in healthcare change goes much further. While chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee from 1985 to 1994, during which time the Stark laws were passed, the now 74-year-old former banker pushed through other significant changes, including expanded Medicare benefits and insurance coverage for people between jobs through legislation commonly known as COBRA.
Now the health subcommittee's ranking minority member, Stark is focusing on enacting legislation to overhaul the Medicare Part D prescription-drug program, specifically, extending enrollment and improving affordability.
Fighting for universal health coverage has long been a top priority for Stark, who believes healthcare is a right for all. Late last month he introduced legislation to establish universal healthcare by combining employer-sponsored coverage with a new government program modeled after Medicare. Under the plan, individuals would pay 20% of the premiums, while employers, general revenue and state funds would finance the remainder.