The real “health care” issue

Is it “health care” or “healthcare?”

The red underline in my browser says “healthcare” is misspelled, but sometimes browsers are better at surfing than spelling, especially in areas where popular use is evolving a spelling or word meaning.

To slightly modify a favorite saying of media iconoclast Jeff Jarvis: “What would Google say?” Google returns 131 million “hits” on healthcare and 165 million on “health care.” Advantage “health care” but not by much. Popular opinion is roughly divided on the issue.

In times like these, journalists often turn to the AP Stylebook stashed under the dark recesses of the desk along the telephone book, but I used the online database version of the “book,” more style search engine than book, but, alas, an issue for another day. (My browser does underlines “stylebook,” but you don’t think this bible of word usage from the world’s largest news service would get its own title wrong, do you?)

The AP Stylebook introduces another possibility in this debate, the fence-straddling, hyphenated “health-care.” In this debate, the middle ground is not highly valued.

Thankfully, the AP Stylebook also doesn’t smile upon such insidious waffling on such an important national issue:

Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion. (Small-business owner, but health care center.)

So as you can see in the example, according to the AP Stylebook, it’s “health care” not “healthcare” or “health-care.”

For those looking for clues for how the federal government might run health care, it should be noted that its two most well-known health care programs are Medicare and Medicaid.