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Why I use the term 'Obamacare'

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I'm pretty sure I've written about this before, but...

• It has been a while.

• I think it might have been a glancing mention rather than a full explanation.

• I like to think that I acquire new readers now and then but am not so self-deluded as to believe that they compulsively scour the archives for every word I ever wrote.•

• Summer doldrums, folks.

• It bears repeating.

“All of the above” is the correct answer. Anyway, here goes.

About a month ago, we did a live chat with Eric Athey — definitely worth a replay if you didn’t see it, by the way — and we were thrilled to have so many questions and comments that we couldn’t get to them all in the chat. One that fell into that category was this: “I’ve noticed that the only people who call it ‘Obamacare’ are ones who inherently disagree with the contents/intent/politics behind the act. If you want to sound impartial, call it the ACA.”

Readers, I did that. If you looked at my first stories on the subject, I believe you’d see that the term makes nary an appearance. It was all “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” this, “health care reform” that, with a healthy dose of “PPACA” and “ACA” and “Affordable Care Act” too.

In print, everything worked out fine, except for the fact that “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is long and the multiplicity of monikers tended to get a little confusing. But on the streets and on the phone, when I was talking to business owners, I got a lot of blank stares and grasping silences when I used any of that terminology. It threw off even medical providers whom I’d expected to be intimately familiar with the lingo.

So I got used to appending “also known as Obamacare” and witnessing recognition dawn. They all knew what that meant, and as my job is reporting and not teaching people to refer to subjects in more complicated ways, I quickly dropped the preamble and used just “Obamacare” in my interviews. I didn’t switch in my stories, though, until a couple of things happened.

• It occurred to me that the stories could still be confusing people just as much as my questions had. Or, worse, getting ignored by people who really needed to have the information they contained.

• I saw a bunch of stories that, like this one, indicated that “President Obama embraces Obamacare label.” (Which, incidentally, I think was a good move.)

• The Obama administration took such an active role in what, depending on whom you talk to, is implementing or changing the law that giving it the marquee seemed only right.

• I realized that, technically, “health care reform” encompasses more than just the law, and so is imprecise.

• Finally, I got really tired of banging my head on the desk after hearing people who knew extremely little about both the law and the health care industry saying, “But this will cut overall medical costs! It says so right in the name: Affordable Care Act.”

That’s it. No big ideological reveal or anything of that sort. I just deemed it, after mature consideration and experimentation, the least confusing and misleading option and, therefore, the best.

(And, for the record, even after making that switch, I’ve gotten questions on the order of, “Hey, I read your stuff regularly and I can’t tell but I must know: What do you personally think of the law?” Which I take as compliments but don’t answer to their satisfaction.)

• • •

Finally, in case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago I wrote “Authority works to help systems across Pa. share health data.” It’s an explainer, really, and one of those that I wrote nearly as much for myself as for you. If you’re confused about exactly how the electronic health-record revolution in Pennsylvania is being handled and why there are so many organizations with similar names, I think this will help you.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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