House Democrats are blocking their Republican colleagues from using Obamacare in letters mailed on the taxpayer's dime to voters, but who made up the term in the first place? Lots of people are asking this question, getting answers like "Certainly a republican, potentially Glenn Beck" and "I am about 80% sure it was Rush Limbaugh" and "Hillary Clinton's campaign coined Obamacare." Iowa Rep. Steve King claimed President Obama himself made it up. Free Republic posters want to claim credit. Lots of liberals suspect an insidious plot by Fox News. But the answer appears to be: a lobbyist.
Jeanne Schulte Scott argued for the trade journal Healthcare Financial Management in March 2007 that then-President Bush had "put all his eggs into his 'privatization' basket" in his 2007 State of the Union address; nevertheless, he made health care the "issue du jour" for the 2008 presidential race. "Health care is hot!" she wrote, and then made a prediction that seems so quaint given all that's passed in the last four-and-a-half years:
The many would-be candidates for president in 2008 are falling over themselves offering their own proposals. We will soon see a "Giuliani-care" and "Obama-care" to go along with "McCain-care," "Edwards-care," and a totally revamped and remodeled "Hillary-care" from the 1990s.
That's the first real reference to Obamacare in LexisNexis (some stories are incorrectly dated). Andy Martin wrote on his blog Contrarian Commentary, "In a 'bid 'em high' contest with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Obama proposes free health care for everyone: Obamacare." Martin's post is dated one day before Healthcare Financial Management's issue date, but magazines typically post-date their issues so they look fresher on the newsstands. The March issue likely came out in early February.
A few weeks later, Gary A. Beckman, writing a letter to the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, complained on March 26, 2007, "Wait until the Dems seriously whittle away the Patriot Act, Second Amendment rights and border security. Wait until we experience socialized medicine a la Hillarycare or Obamacare ... Yes, you Democrats and independents (who voted Democrat) have made a difference with your 2006 vote. Congratulations."
Headline writers squeezed for space gave the term momentum since "Obamacare" is so much shorter than "Obama's health care overhaul" or "Obama's health care bill." On May 30, 2007, The Hotline headlined a roundup of news about then-candidate Obama announcing his health care proposal "Obama: Here's Obamacare." A few days later, Jason Horowitz's story for the June 6 New York Observer (which also post dates its issues) was titled, "Stat! Clinton Readies Scalpel for Obamacare." Neither contains the term in the body of the story, so it was likely the work of an editor.
Timothy Noah wrote a series for Slate about "the health care primary," beginning June 19 with "Obamacare: Better Than It Looks." Stories on "Edwardscare: A Trojan Horse," "Hillarycare II: New and Improved," and "McCaincare: Provocative but Vague" followed.
Associated Press's Nancy Benac appears to have reported the first derisive use of the term by a political candidate. That candidate was, what do you know, Mitt Romney. On September 15, 2007, Benac wrote:
Already, the GOP candidates are branding Democratic proposals a step on the road to socialized medicine while they offer incremental steps such as tax breaks to expand coverage and make it more affordable."Let me tell ya, if we don't do it, the Democrats will," warns Republican Mitt Romney. "And if the Democrats do it, it'll be socialized medicine. It will be government-managed care. It'll be what's known as Hillary-care or Barack Obama-care or whatever you want to call it."
On the Washington Post's website, Benac's story carried the headline, "In Health Care Debate, U-Word Is Back." "U" as in universal. How times have changed. Romney was proud of his health care record in Massachusetts then. Now he has to convince Republican voters that he really believes it was a great plan on the state level but would be disastrous socialism if implemented nationwide.
Update November 8: Reader Andrew Steinberg catches an earlier use of Obamacare by a politician on May 30, 2007. Guess what? Romney was still the first to use the term.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.