Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat, New Jersey
After the better part of three decades in Congress, New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. finds himself facing the longest odds in his career. He’s running for Senate and will likely take on Newark Mayor Corey Booker in the special primary, a national figure whose fame reaches near-celebrity.
Win, lose, or draw, though, it won’t be Pallone’s last fight: The Senate primary is a special election to replace former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in June at the age of 89. It means that Pallone will keep his congressional seat—representing part of Jersey’s shore—even if he loses the Senate race.
Whatever one feels about Pallone’s politics—and he is an unapologetic liberal—his willingness to fight makes him one to watch in Washington, says Greg Crist, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Health Care Association.
“He has always worked to bolster Medicaid’s financial stability and opposed any efforts to impede the ability of providers to offer high-quality health care,” Crist says.
If Pallone seems feisty, he’s come by it honestly: Born the day before Halloween in 1951, Pallone was the son of a cop. He was born and raised (and still lives) in Long Branch, on the Jersey Shore. He has spent most of his grown life in politics, first as a city councilman, then as a state senator, and then, in 1988, as a member of Congress.
He has spent most of his career fighting for environmental protections and for health care expansion and reform. He chaired the House Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee, making him one of the point men on what has come to be known as Obamacare.
But, while he wants more care and more coverage, Pallone says reform can’t just be about spending money. You have to spend money wisely, he says.
“We have to face up to the reality that health care is expensive,” Pallone said in a recent interview with Provider. “You have to figure out a way to pay for it, and you have to pay for it while you’re young.”
The problem, he says, is that few in Washington seem to want to face those realities. “There’s not a lot of seriousness about the issue,” he said, sipping a cup of tea.
Pallone says he understands that long term care is part of the future.
He’s not sure that others have caught on to that yet.
“We continue to rely on Medicaid to pay for nursing home care,” he says, his mouth slightly downcast. “I don’t think the system is sustainable.”
He says he appreciates how much long term care has “evolved” down through the years.
“People aren’t just warehoused there anymore,” he says. “It’s not just about efficiency. What [providers] have done and have continued to do is to focus on quality.”
That will pay dividends, Pallone says—if Washington leaders will meet the profession halfway.
In any case, he says he’ll keep fighting to make it happen.
■ Thirteen-term congressman, currently representing New
Jersey’s Sixth District
■ Born: Oct. 30, 1951, in Long Branch, N.J.
■ Education: Middelbury College, BA, cum laude, 1973; Tufts University, MA, international relations, 1973; Rutgers University, JD, 1978
■ Family: Wife, Sarah (nee Hospodor), three children—daughters Rose Marie and Celeste Teresa and son, Frank Andrew.