Why Not Call The ACA "Obamacare"?

by Patrick Appel

Aaron Carroll's two cents:

The more specific reason I don’t use “Obamacare” is that it implies that the law is the work of one man.  It wasn’t passed by fiat.  It was created by three committees in the House, two more in the Senate, was voted on by a majority of Representatives and a heck of a lot of Senators before being altered in reconciliation.  Then it was signed by the President.  President Obama neither gets all the blame nor all the credit.  It’s not his and his alone.  It’s the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, or the PPACA.

A reader's additional reasons:

1) The use of the shorthand Obamacare is useful in polarizing the electorate about it. Do you hate Obama? How do you feel about Obamacare? How many people are really going to answer yes to the first then "Well, it's not ideal, but it probably does more good than harm" to the second?

2) It creates a false equivalence. Unlike Medicare which made a whole new government run program, the Affordable Care Act works to modify the existing system to better serve Americans, unless you consider the creation of exchanges for people to buy private insurance from a real expansion of government reach. The Medicare comparison is one that is used by opponents of the bill to help label it as large, sweeping, and expensive for individuals, business and America, when it is anything but that. It also glosses over fairly nicely that this isn't some singular program but a complex tweaking of many facets of insurance in America.

3) It's just part of a larger trend in terrible naming conventions. If we have a scandal associated with the Affordable Car Act, it will inevitably be called Obamacaregate. We didn't call Medicare Part D "Bushcare" without confusing everyone, and we don't call the Afghanistan war Bushnam so everyone could know in one word that it's an expensive pointless war started by Bush. Or maybe instead if we invade Yemen or Iran we should call those Obamastan for the same reason.

Another reader:

One of the big complaints a lot of liberals had about the health care reform bill was that Obama wasn't doing enough to guide Congress in shaping the bill. A lot of people thought that his lack of leadership on the issue drew out the debate significantly, and resulted in a weaker bill overall than what he might have gotten if he'd pushed a plan aggressively from day one. Granted, once the bill was largely shaped he came out strong to push for it; but calling the bill Obamacare seems like a misnomer at best, and an attempt to place the blame for the ugly process that shaped it solely at Obama's feet at worst.

By far the most common reason:

Has "Obamacare" ever been used without a sneer?  It was created as a way for Fox news to use the name Obama as a slur. It has almost never been used non-judgmentally.  Just about the as often as "conservatives" say "liberal" and mean something nice, do they say "Obamacare" and mean something non-judgemental. 

Along the same lines:

It strikes me that such personalized sobriquets are almost automatically pejorative. Was social security Rooseveltcare, or the civil rights successes of the 60s Johnsonism? On the other hand, what about Hoovervilles?


The simple answer is that it was originated and meant to conjure up the negative image of a one-man HMO, a quote "government takeover of healthcare" that Frank Luntz consistantly urged Fox News and GOP officials to use when discussing the legislation before it was even drafted.  The level of dishonesty is as disturbing as it is effective.  Obama's legislation isn't a government takeover of healthcare, isn't government run healthcare, doesn't involve government doctors or government actuaries telling people what services they can and cannot have under an insurance policy they cannot control -- it simply outlines rules of the road for the market and creates a mechanism by which costs can be lowered (exchanges, a mandate, and subsidies) so that everyone can be covered by existing, private insurance policies that already exist.  And yet I knew reformers had lost the war to frame the issue when no less than Time magazine ran a cover depicting Obama in a doctor's outfit under the headline "Paging Dr. Obama" and asking 'What's His Prescription?"; "How will New Plan Effect You?" which portrayed to anyone checking out groceries that egotistical Obama was here to be play your doctor, HMO, and run your healthcare decisions.

I don't think its even a small step, let alone a leap, to argue that terms like 'Obamacare' were put thrust into the debate to develop a mythical conception of health insurance reform as one man's power trip over your critical healthcare decisions: 'Obama's takeover of your healthcare', so to speak. A straight line can be drawn from that image on Time magazine, and that term, to 'Death Panels'.  It is completely a right wing pejorative.


Google the term "Obamacare." The first result is a Wikipedia page mentioning its pejorative connotation. The second result? "The Truth About Obamacare." The third? A YouTube video of a group that doesn't like the law. The fourth? "20 Ways Obamacare will take away our freedoms." Why is it pejorative? It is used pejoratively.

A Google Images search is equally eye-opening. A lone defender of the label:

As a liberal who advocated for the PPACA and supports it, I have no problem with calling it "Obamacare." In fact, in my more optimistic moments, I hope that when it becomes as entrenched as Medicare, conservatives will end up regretting making Obama's name an integral part of the program. Can you imagine a Republican campaigning against a Democrat for having supported $500bn in "Obamacare cuts" in 20 years? I don't know about you, but the thought tickles me.

(Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)