Pete Stark, congressman with a passion for healthcare, dies at 88

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Bloomberg—Former California Representative Fortney “Pete” Stark Jr., a Democrat who had a special focus on healthcare during his 40 years in Congress, has died at age 88.

The Associated Press reported that Stark died on Friday, citing his family. No cause of death was given.

Stark is on a shortlist of House members who served four decades or more. He represented a district in the San Francisco Bay area, including the cities of Alamedia, Hayward, San Leandro and parts of Oakland. He helped craft Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s signature policy achievement.

“Personally and professionally, I was proud to work with Pete to pass the Affordable Care Act, which stands as a pillar of health and economic security in America today,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

Stark was also well known for his role in crafting legislation to curb fraud and abuse in healthcare. In fact, one of the key five federal weapons in seeking to rein in such practices bears his name—the Stark law regulates physician self-referrals. It has, at times, confounded hospitals that sought to provide information technology to clinicians.

Fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell beat Stark in 2012 to end the lawmaker’s Congressional run. “Pete Stark gave the East Bay decades of public service as a voice in Congress for working people,” Swalwell said on Twitter.

Stark first ran for Congress in 1972 on an anti-war platform to unseat Representative George Miller.

Earlier in his career, Stark helped to craft the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, known as COBRA, that allows workers to continue to purchase their employer health insurance plan for a limited time after leaving a job.

He also authored legislation broadening public access to emergency hospital services, regardless of ability to pay, and laws limiting referrals where physicians have financial conflicts of interests.

“Pete was a fierce advocate for the most vulnerable in our society,” President Bill Clinton said in a statement on behalf of himself and wife Hillary Clinton. “He worked for an inclusive, peace-loving America.”

Wisconsin-born Stark earned his master of business administration from UC Berkeley, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to his family, he met a young Steve Jobs on a cross-country flight and worked to author a bill providing tax credits to companies that donated computers to public schools, the paper reported.

Stark is survived by his wife, Deborah Roderick Stark, seven children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bloomberg News