Aide to Kennedy, Kerry will help Obama pitch health care law

Bay State native to assist projects and initiatives

(Stephen Crowley/Ny Times/File 2008)
Globe Staff And Wire Services / April 23, 2010

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President Obama has chosen Stephanie Cutter, who served as a top aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy and communications director for Senator John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004, to be in charge of getting out the word about the benefits of the new health care insurance overhaul.

“Stephanie is one of the most respected professionals in public affairs and has an innate understanding of the nexus between policy and communications,’’ Obama said yesterday in a statement.

Cutter will begin her post as assistant to the president for special projects next month. In addition to improving communications on the health care law, she is to assist in other presidential initiatives.

Administration officials said Cutter’s job will be more educational than political. But several Democrats said better messaging on health care is crucial to the party’s election hopes this year.

“The administration needs to use all means necessary to get the message out, basic information to consumers,’’ said Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The more people learn about the bill, the more they like it.’’

Republicans have a different view. They predict that public anger over the health care law will fuel big GOP gains in congressional races this fall.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that opposition to the law increased after Obama’s March 23 signing ceremony. Half of those polled said they opposed the new measure, and 39 percent supported it.

Only 28 percent, however, said they understood the overhaul extremely or very well. That gives Democratic leaders a chance to fill the knowledge gaps.

But Cutter and her allies must hack through a jungle of confusing provisions, complex issues, and misinformation to raise such awareness.

For instance, administration officials highlighted this week agreements by several large insurance companies to let children under 26 stay on their parents’ plans starting June 1 — when new college graduates would otherwise lose their eligibility — instead of on Sept. 23, when the new law takes effect.

What is less well known is that some employees at self-insured companies may not receive that family benefit until Jan. 1, when many health plans start a new year of coverage. And it comes after the Nov. 2 elections.

Cutter, 41, grew up in Raynham, Mass., and graduated from Smith College and the Georgetown University Law Center.

In addition to her work with Kennedy and Kerry, she was a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency and deputy communications director in the Clinton White House.

Considered one of the top Democratic strategists for presenting a side in the media or buffing a politician’s image, Cutter was a leading figure in the presidential transition team for Obama and was a top aide to Michelle Obama.

She also coordinated the announcement of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and led preparations for her successful confirmation hearings.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.