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Kuster: Health Care Law Gaining Fans As It Unfolds

  • Katy Milligan, Director of the Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program at Dartmouth, watches as U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster greets Lisa Kable during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

    Katy Milligan, Director of the Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program at Dartmouth, watches as U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster greets Lisa Kable during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduces herself during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>

    Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduces herself during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour.
    (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gail Taylor, Faculty Director of the Tuck Business Bridge Program, center, listens during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>

    Gail Taylor, Faculty Director of the Tuck Business Bridge Program, center, listens during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour.
    (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Katy Milligan, Director of the Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program at Dartmouth, watches as U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster greets Lisa Kable during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)
  • Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduces herself during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>
  • Gail Taylor, Faculty Director of the Tuck Business Bridge Program, center, listens during a Women's Business Leadership Roundtable at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on April 24, 2014. The roundtable, which included professors, students, doctors, and business leaders, is part of Kuster's "Women's Economic Agenda" listening tour. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>

Hanover — U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said Thursday she continues to support the Affordable Care Act and that more Americans are coming to appreciate the health-care law as they gain coverage or see its benefits.

“People’s perspectives are changing,” Kuster said in an interview after an appearance at Dartmouth College.

The first-term Democrat said almost 100,000 New Hampshire residents are benefiting from the ACA through expanded Medicaid and private plans offered via the state’s exchange and young people under 26 staying on their parents’ plans.

The new health care law promises to be a central issue in the November elections, and President Obama last week said Democrats “should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact....we’re helping because of something we did.”

A Gallup poll released two weeks ago found 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the law, while 43 percent approve, the latter number increasing since last November.

Nationally, approximately 8 million Americans have signed up for private health care coverage through the new marketplaces and an additional 3 million gained coverage under Medicaid expansion.

Kuster said that rather than repealing the law, as many Republican lawmakers have advocated, her goal is to ease the transition and to “not leave people with their lives disrupted.” For example, she said she hopes to ensure that people are not punished with fines and fees for failing to sign up in a timely manner.

Efforts to smooth the law’s adoption in New Hampshire are “not all legislative fixes,” she said.

Instead, improvements are likely to come from competition within the private sector as more companies join the state’s exchange, she said.

Kuster was in Hanover Thursday to meet with area businesswomen and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth faculty and students as part of an ongoing “Women’s Economic Agenda” tour of the state.

Kuster, a member of the Dartmouth class of 1978, the third to admit women, said she was familiar with the way in which gender can hold women back.

She spoke of her sponsorship of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help correct an inequity in the way women are paid in comparison with men in the same jobs and described her enthusiasm for the term “family wallet.” She said New Hampshire women earn 77 cents for every dollar men make.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be leaving money on the table,” she said.

Kuster described the way family-friendly policies can improve workplace culture and profits, pointing to Badger Balm, a Gilsum, N.H.-based personal care products company, which allows employees to bring their babies to work for the first six months. She said the policy inspires “unbelievable loyalty.”

Mary Bihrle, Hypertherm’s chief financial officer, agreed that family considerations are one of the biggest hurdles women face in the workplace. She said that there are costs to companies for granting family leave in that they have to pay a temporary worker to perform the tasks of the employee on leave. She described granting such leave as long term investment in the workforce.

Bihrle said that when businesses are doing well it is easier for them to offer flexible schedules to accommodate families. When times are harder and profits are at risk, it can be more difficult for businesses to offer such benefits, she said.

Gail Taylor, faculty director of the Tuck Business Bridge Program and visiting associate professor of business administration, said businesses have to factor in the cost of training a new employee. Those that invest in employees through family-friendly policies build confidence in their employees, she said.

Dr. Leslie Fall, co-founder of MedU, a nonprofit focused on medical education, said she benefited from the female physicians who came before her: “women who went through medicine like a man would.” She said that over time medicine, as a field, has moved toward providing family time to physicians of both genders.

“Everybody needs this,” she said.

She also said that she advises younger women to “pick something to lean in on”; to stay late one night a week.

She emphasized that while young women may think they have to choose between a family and a career, it’s not a “zero-sum game.”

Katy Milligan, director of the Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program at Tuck, expressed her appreciation for Kuster’s role as a member of New Hampshire’s all-female Congressional delegation, which includes U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a fellow Democrat.

“I’m so proud of you and the rest of New Hampshire,” Milligan said.

Despite the friendly greeting in Hanover, Kuster is struggling with poor favorability ratings in her district. Only 27 percent of voters in the state’s Second Congressional District view her favorably, according to a UNH Survey Center poll released earlier this month, with 39 percent of independents, a key voting bloc, holding an unfavorable view of the incumbent.

Two Republicans, state Rep. Marilinda Garcia of Salem and former state Sen. Gary Lambert of Nashua, are vying in the GOP primary to challenge Kuster in November.

The UNH poll showed that Garcia is neck and neck with Kuster. In a contest between them, 34 percent of those polled said they would vote for Kuster and 33 percent would vote for Garcia.

“That is a very dangerous place to be,” said Andrew Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Kuster held a 7-percentage point lead over Lambert in the UNH poll, 38 percent to 31 percent.

Smith described Kuster’s favorability ratings as a “big red flag” and said that in general incumbents can expect to see better ratings than their opponents simply due to name recognition.

Mid-term elections are referenda on the party of the president, said Smith. He predicted that the year will be a bad one for Democrats.

“It’s a tough spot to be on the party of the president,” he said. “It’s tough to be in an election at the mercy of political forces not in your control.”

Smith said one thing Democrats have been able to do in the past is to cast Republicans as against women.

“Something to get your base angry to get them to the polls,” he said.

But Smith said it could be difficult for Kuster to paint Garcia, another woman, as biased against her own sex, if the Salem lawmaker is the GOP nominee.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.