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Trisha Torrey

The Term "Obamacare" - What's Your Opinion?

By July 14, 2013

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This week I was reaching out to a patient advocate friend to share some information about Obamacare - the Affordable Care Act....

Long time readers know what I have supported healthcare reform since public discussions first began in 2008, then throughout election seasons, passage of the ACA, and judgment from the Supreme Court, I continued to refer to the entire shift as either healthcare reform or the ACA. But never did I call this wholesale change to the payment system for our healthcare "Obamacare" (except as attributed to those who were against reform) because it had been used by its foes as a term  of derision - it was usually accompanied by a sneer.

But over time, my opinion has changed - and even I, the stalwart supporter of the ACA, have begun to call our new healthcare reality "Obamacare."  Three reasons:

  1. First, because the President himself told the press he likes it, because, he told them, "I do care!"  At least that's what he told the press in the summer of 2012. If the President is willing to embrace the term, I am too.
  2. Second, because the mainstream press is embracing it, too, now that the President has weighed in.  All headlines (not just those from Fox) use it to refer to the Affordable Care Act. See samples from the likes of Reuters and Forbes.
  3. Third, because it's so recognizable.  If I ask 10 people what the ACA is, only a few of them will know.  If I ask 10 people what Obamacare is, they will all know exactly what I'm talking about.  It's about clarity.

I also think that in a generation or two, the term "Obamacare" will be a term used in admiration - after decades and a handful of presidents tried to pass healthcare reform, Mr. Obama actually did it.

So back to my outreach to my advocate friend...  he took GREAT offense to my use of the term Obamacare.  From his email to me, "...referring to the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare politicizes unnecessarily and marginalizes this incredibly significant legislation."


Clearly he's not on board with my reference.... So I gave him the same explanation as I gave you above, and his reply was, "What was Mr. Obama supposed to say - that he didn't like it?"

OK, now I'm thinking that he's made a couple of good points.... and that makes me curious about YOUR opinions.

So take this poll, or comment below, or somehow share your opinion with me please!

As your favorite (!) patient empowerment guide, I always want to err on the side of clarity, but certainly use of any term is not meant to offend...

What do you think?

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Agree? Disagree?
Share your experience or join the conversation!


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Photo @Getty Images

July 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm
(1) Bart Windrum says:

I use both and prefer Affordable Care Act because it’s neutral. You know or may recall that I advocate for the proactive use of language and for the notion that if we, advocates especially, don’t use language that reframes things in the manner most beneficial to us then who will and we keep on reinforcing what’s detrimental to us. My out list includes: care, care team, wash hands; my in list includes treatment, treatment group, and disinfect hands. Around end of life matters I perceive that even our best friends palliative and hospice folks, and especially not our friends clueless oldstream docs, frame end of life matters in the context, however subtle, of medicine owning dying rather than each of us owning dying. So all this soapboxing of mine here to exemplify that what we as advocates choose to say matters. Trajectories change by degrees and word choice is their thruster. So for the innocently ignorant I might say Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Presumably, the next time I and that person converse s/he will recognize the acts proper name.

July 15, 2013 at 10:44 am
(2) Leslie Durr says:

I had the exact same reaction to the term when I read it in the Forum and almost wrote. I’m glad someone did.

Actually, it’s called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and that really is the heart of the legislation – protecting those whose employers don’t offer insurance and those with pre-existing conditions. When you think of it, we get our car, home owners or renters and life insurances through our own names and don’t have to depend on the benevolence of an employer – why should we have to stay in a terrible job just to protect ourselves and our families?

Now, whether healthcare legislation that sets up for-profit insurance companies to provide that insurance is in the best interests of the public is another thing. Medicare for all is my mantra.

July 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm
(3) MH says:

I find the term “Obamacare” offensive. Let’s call it by its proper, shortened name, “Affordable Care Act.” This legislation was a long time coming and I refuse to give credit to a president who was not active in the health care reform evolution that finally produced it. He doesn’t even understand it! No credit and no blame to a non-player.

July 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm
(4) Nancy O'Hara Meek says:

I agree that using the term “Affordable Care Act’ is more neutral, because most of the folks who I talk to that are against it use “Obamacare”. That said, I think it is premature to be on the AFA bandwagon. I recently responded to a letter to the editor in my local newspaper to a nurse who espoused the virtues of the AFA and how wonderful it was going to be. I say, let the dominoes fall and we’ll see. The health exchanges and the hundreds of new government employees have not yet even been put in place. When great doctors such as neurosurgeon Ben Carson and many like him see a real problem arising, I have to be concerned. When one of the #1 cardiologists in Phoenix stops taking insurance and is now sees patients on a cash-only basis so he can spend as much time as he wants with patients, I am forced to see upcoming changes as potentially being less than “wonderful.” What I see is that people with money will be getting the best healthcare and folks like me – maybe not so great. And an incidental occurrence may be that illegal immigrants given amnesty and not privvy to Obamacare will be able to get jobs because employers will not be forced to cover their healthcare (although the employer requirement has been put on hold for a year). My health insurance has gone up so that it can cover things it never did before, so I had to opt out of my premium plan and have far less coverage than I’ve ever had before. The good so far for me? .it has definitely made people more interested in patient advocacy and that I may be the only person who can offer some continuity in their care.

July 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm
(5) Rick Pugach says:

I am squarely lined up with the Affordable Care Act terminology. I think we continue to live today with the consequences of the divisiveness created by the constituencies that used the Obamacare word as a pejorative and divided a nation in the process. If we truly have evolved since then, my local interactions today with neighbors, friends and others would be much more evolved than in fact they have been. Instead, virtually everyone I have talked to since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act continues to use the Obamacare term disparagingly and in a manner that conveys ignorance, and at times, hate.

Words matter.

July 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm
(6) Liz Davis, About.com Guide to Health Insurance says:

I don’t see the term Obamacare as pejorative. I’m a supporter of healthcare reform, and I frequently refer to Obamacare rather than the Affordable Care Act.

People’s eyes glaze over when I mention the Affordable Care Act, whereas a mention of Obamacare is likely to result in rapt attention and conversation. Also, Obamacare has fewer letters and sometimes fits into a headline when the Affordable Care Act won’t.

I’m more concerned that people understand the concept I’m talking about than that they know how I feel about the concept. More people are familiar with the term Obamacare than the Affordable Care Act or the ACA. If I write a headline about Obamacare, most understand what I’m talking about. If I use the ACA in a headline, only industry professionals, savvy healthcare consumers, or politically active folks know what I’m talking about with their initial glance.

Language evolves. The term Obamacare is undergoing a shift from a term with a negative connotation to a term with a neutral connotation. I would like to hasten that evolution.

I hope my use of Obamacare in neutral and positive lights, (as well as in the occasional critical light when indicated), will help to hasten this change in our lexicon. I realize some of my readers may infer negativity I didn’t intend to imply. I don’t want to offend readers. Neither do I want to tippy toe around on eggshells trying to make sure nothing I say ever offends anyone.

It takes two sides to argue. Opponents will continue to spew vitriol. That doesn’t mean proponents have to engage with them, or that our lexicon has to conform to their version of reality.

We can choose to move forward, choose to use the term in a neutral or positive light, and choose to participate in changing the language.

I choose to move forward.

July 18, 2013 at 5:34 pm
(7) alan says:

Most of the people i know say obamacare. It was his signature legislation, he pushed it at the expense of a lot of political capital, it is his plan so why would there be a problem with attaching his name to it pro or con.
I will offer another thought that will draw the ire of the supporters here but is almost universal in the employer community. It is anything but affordable for us. We are cutting benefits in numerous areas for our existing employees to offset PART of the expense. We cut vacation hours, we had a very generous 401K and cut our contribution, we increased the deductible and employee contribution, and are taking other steps that cut what we were providing for many of our long term employees. This will cut the extra this act added to our down to about 10% of companies net income. Before you jump on the greed mantra, I pay myself less than 20% of the INCREASED amount, And there is this little item that proponents want to ignore. If I absorbed the additional cost my companies net income would drop considerably and my banks would cut our operating lines and we could be in violation of the debt service coverage ratio covenants and they could call our loans. Affordable depends on which side of the cost equation you are. So, I use obamacare for several reasons, including I don’t think the affordable part applies to many businesses

July 19, 2013 at 10:43 am
(8) Eric Andrist says:

Neutral smeutral. Who cares’ if it’s neutral…Obamacare is easier to say and INSTANTLY recognizable as to what we’re talking about. “Affordable Care Act?” Care? What kind of care? Nursing home care? Day Care? Unless people stay completely on top of all of this, that term is ambiguous at best.

Obamacare is short and to the point. If people need neutrality to say a word, they also need to see a therapist. Hmmm…does Obamacare cover that?

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