Affordable Care Act or Obamacare? Debate over which term is overused by jou

iMediaEthics publishes international media ethics news stories and investigations into journalism ethics lapses.


Home » Editing»

A screenshot from the website for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. (Credit:

National Public Radio’s and the Associated Press’s standards editors said staff shouldn’t overuse the term Obamacare, This announcement comes about a month after NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos argued it is OK for reporters to use the term instead of the law’s real name, the Affordable Care Act.

Schumacher-Matos wrote in early September that “three years ago, as the ombudsman for the Miami Herald,” he was against journalists using “Obamacare.”

“It had pejorative implications,” Schumacher-Matos explained. But now, he blogged, he’s OK with it because enough time has passed and the word has been used not only in a partisan way.

“It is safe to say, in other words, that the term ‘Obamacare’ has entered the general vocabulary as a largely neutral term,” Schumacher-Matos argued.

Stuart Seidel, NPR’s managing editor for standards and practice, is quoted as saying that while “Obamacare” started off as a partisan term, since Obama doesn’t mind it, it’s acceptable.

“Since passage of the legislation and its enactment into law, the president has said he rather likes the term ‘Obamacare’ and it has gradually come into the vernacular as a shorthand for referring to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Seidel said. “I’m confident that NPR listeners and readers understand that whatever its origins, the term ‘Obamacare’ has lost its pedigree as a politically charged term.”

But, in early October, the Maynard Institute reported that both “the Associated Press and NPR have decided to cut back on the use of the term ‘Obamacare.”‘ The Poynter Institute posted an excerpt of the Maynard Institute post on Oct. 3.

The change at NPR came after The Maynard Institute’s Richard Prince argued to NPR’s Seidel that “Obamacare” really is partisan.

Prince reported that in two recent speeches, Obama exclusively used “Affordable Care Act” in lieu of “Obamacare” and that in a recent House debate, “all the Democrats used ‘Affordable Care Act’ and all the Republicans ‘Obamacare’ for the time this vewier was watching.”

After being presented with that information, Seidel reportedly told him that NPR should be mindful with its use, but didn’t backtrack and say that “Obamacare” shouldn’t be avoided. Seidel is quoted as telling Prince:

“I’m not persuaded that the use of ‘Obamacare’ is wholly inappropriate, but I am persuaded that good effort needs [to be] made to avoid over-using it.”

Further, in a memo to staff, Seidel specifically advised staff to “avoid overusing ‘Obamacare.”

On the other hand, the Associated Press called for its reporters to be careful with using the nickname or the real name.  Use “the nation’s new health insurance system,” “the health care overhaul,” or “the new health care law,”standards editor Tom Kent wrote in a blogpost. Reporters are instructed to reference “Obamacare” “in quotes, or in formulations like ‘the law, sometimes known as Obamacare.'”

“On first reference, it’s best to refer to the ‘Affordable Care Act’ or ‘the health care law,'” he wrote.

However, Kent cautioned about over-referring to the real name, the Affordable Care Act.  “Its very name is promotional,” he wrote, adding that polls report “not all Americans know the law by this name.”

Submit a tip / Report a problem

Affordable Care Act or Obamacare? Debate over which term is overused by journalists

Share this article: