Public editor

Is ‘Obamacare’ a dirty word?

Updated: 2013-09-21T23:58:34Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

On Oct. 1, government-run exchanges will open for people without health insurance provided through an employer. It’s a major milestone for one of the key provisions of the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

But the system is probably known best of all as “Obamacare.”

Is that the right word to use? It’s certainly become ubiquitous in media coverage. In fact, it appeared in a headline on The Kansas City Star’s front page Monday of this week.

Other references have been phrased in ways such as “the ACA, often called Obamacare,” or by placing it in quotes.

There is no question that the term was originally devised by opponents to the legislation when it was still in its planning stages. But as The New York Times noted last year, the Obama administration has openly embraced it.

In fact, it’s used in the headlines of official White House blog posts.

I just had a discussion with several editors in the newsroom about the term, which still somehow catches me up every time I read it — most likely because my brain still thinks back to when it was used purely as a pejorative.

But since the administration has clearly taken the word back, should journalists feel free to use it? Tough call.

Do non-wonk types know what “the ACA” means? And while “Obamacare” isn’t easy to fit into a headline, “The Affordable Care Act” is even harder.

My personal preference would be for one of the most-often used constructions in The Star’s news coverage: “the ACA, also known as Obamacare.” But try cramming that into a headline, especially in a single column on the printed page.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to Follow him at

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