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COBRA champion Pete Stark loses in re-election bid


Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the co-author of the original COBRA health care legislation, was defeated Tuesday in his bid for a 21st term in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Stark, 80, was defeated by Eric Swalwell, a 31-year-old local prosecutor, in the race to represent a redrawn California congressional district.

In the employee benefits realm, Rep. Stark was best known as the lawmaker who in the mid-1980s — along with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. — introduced legislation to require employers to extend group health care coverage to employees after they terminated employment and to their dependents in death, divorce and marital separation situations.

That free-standing bill later was attached to a broader bill — the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act — that lawmakers approved in 1986. Since its passage, COBRA has enabled millions of employees and their dependents to retain coverage by paying a premium equal to 102% of the group rate.

Rep. Stark, a long-serving member of the House Ways and Means Committee and onetime chairman of its health subcommittee, was an outspoken critic of consumer-driven health care plans. In 2008, he described health savings accounts, which are linked to CDHPs, as a way to “simply shift costs to consumers, not control costs.” Those who opt for the arrangements tend to be the “healthy, wealthy,” which can result in a “devastating” shift of costs to lower-income, less healthy employees who enroll in other health care plans, he said.

He could be outspoken, some said, to a fault. In 2003, he disrupted a House and Means Committee vote on pension issues when he called a fellow panel member a “fruitcake.”