Optimistic man with plan

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
As the ranking Republican member on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Bob Corker has witnessed firsthand the debates on antipsychotic legislation, long-term care financing and chronic illness.

The first-term senator from Tennessee says he's deeply concerned about costs and the lack of planning by individuals. 

“I don't think there is a lot of awareness right now,” he observes. “A lot of citizens think Medicare pays and that these costs will be covered by the federal government.”

Corker, who is running for re-election this year, says he never envisioned a life in politics. He started out his career in construction, co-founding Bencor Corporation in 1978 and selling the construction portion in 1990. A trip to Haiti in his 20s sparked his interest in public policy.

“I went on this mission trip and was very touched by that. I came back to Chattanooga and started working in our inner city,” he says. “I needed to get out in front and talk to people about it.”

When he became the Tennessee Commissioner of Finance and Administration in 1994, he was introduced to healthcare issues, which sparked his interest in the challenges facing seniors. And while construction may seem worlds away from politics, Corker notes that in both cases, you need a plan to succeed.

“If you really think about what a big construction project is, it's a vision. You start with renderings and you lay out where you're going,” he says.

That was true of his beloved native city of Chattanooga, where he became mayor in 2001. The 59-year-old still loves to bike and enjoy the Chattanooga Riverwalk, particularly with his wife of 25 years, Elizabeth. The pair also enjoy spending time with their grown daughters, Emily and Julia.

Brookdale Senior Living  CEO Bill Sheriff says that even when the senator doesn't share the senior living company's viewpoint, he “always listens. He has a deep appreciation of business, high integrity and a strong mind.”

Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president at the Assisted Living Federation of America, says she was impressed with the level of knowledge Corker and his staff had about the industry.

“He knew all about assisted living,” she says. “He's very pragmatic, and it's nice to have that honesty.”
That frankness is on display when Corker talks about his biggest frustration of being in the U.S. Senate: getting things done.

“The Senate has ceased to function as it should,” he says. “I had to ask myself last year if we were doing all the things that we were needing to do; I had to ask myself if serving in the Senate is worth a grown man's time.”

But Corker says he's regained some cheerfulness as November's election draws near. “I am more optimistic than I've been in a long time,” he says.
  
As he works toward new accomplishments, senior living will stay in focus. Corker says when his father, who recently passed away from Alzheimer's, was diagnosed, the family was fortunate in that he had a long-term care policy.

“We were able to handle it. I don't know how the average citizen in American will be able to afford it,” he says.

He adds that pressure on entitlement programs will force changes in order to keep them sustainable.

"[W]hen you think about the fact of the unbelievable cost curve, the steepness in growth that's happening right now in costs, you're going to have a train wreck," Corker says. "There's just no real planning by individuals regarding the huge cost if they end up needing a long-term care facility. I don't think many people in American are planning for that.

"Choice is important. And I know that the industry itself is continuing to figure out differing and better, more efficacy in delivering high quality care. But the two things that I think are really going to create issues for both individuals and industry down the road is the cost and the lack of planning that's taking place by most individuals in our country.”

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1974
Graduates from the University of Tennessee with bachelor's degree in industrial management

1978
Co-founds Bencor Corporation

1994

Runs unsuccessfully in Senate GOP primary; appointed Tennessee Commissioner of Finance and Administration

2001
Becomes mayor of Chattanooga, TN

2006
Elected as U.S. Senator from ­Tennessee

2011
Introduces legislation to establish a new annual Medicare statement (Medicare Information Act of 2011)

2012
Running for re-election to the Senate

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