As healthcare deliberations intensify on Capitol Hill, the American people are confronted with a bewildering array of information, opinion and analysis regarding the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system. In the spirit of public service, The Bloomington Alternative offers the following glossary of terms used by politicians, public relations professionals and pundits to “debate” healthcare reform.

Following a brief definition, the word or phrase is illustrated in common usage. Examples are taken from recent public statements regarding the President’s reform effort and the crisis of U.S. healthcare.

Blue Dog Democrats

See also Corporate Democrats

A coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A leader of the conservative ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats told CNN Wednesday he and other group members may vote to block House Democrats' health care bill from passing a key committee if they don't get some of the changes they want.

"We remain opposed to the current bill, and we continue to meet several times a day to decide how we're going to proceed and what amendments we will be offering as Blue Dogs on the committees,’ said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Arkansas. July, 16, 2009


The ability to select medical services and treatment from among a range of insurance plans and healthcare providers.

“Insurance companies repeatedly interfere with the care of patients. The opponents of health reform keep saying that if the government gets into medicine, you won’t have a choice of your doctor, you won’t have a choice of your hospital, your care will be restricted. I don’t know where they got that. Medicare, if anything, is too permissive. Medicare never gets in my way.

“But insurance companies -- I have to use special labs. I have to -- I can use certain hospitals for one person; I can’t use them for another. I’m repeatedly getting responses from the insurance company disallowing certain procedures, disallowing certain medications. The insurance company is in the room every time I see a patient. And somehow, the patients think they have free choice. Medicare gives them free choice. They will have their choice of doctor. They will have their choice of treatment. With private insurance, that will not be the case. It’s an extraordinary waste of money.”

Dr. David Scheiner, Barack Obama’s personal physician for 22 years

Congressional Budget Office (CBO)

Agency charged with reviewing congressional budgets and the costs associated with federal spending programs. The CBO recently indicated that Obama’s “public option” would increase federal healthcare costs and expand the budget deficit.

“The accounting arm of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, has yet to perform a financial analysis of the cost of implementing single payer, a system whereby taxpayers -- businesses and individuals -- pay into a single general fund which covers everyone’s health care for the rest of their lives, regardless of job or health status.”

Marcy Winograd, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Progressive Democrats of America

Corporate Democrats

Democrats who have abandoned the working class, helped dismantle the social safety net and are otherwise beholden to corporate interests.

“Well, just when we thought the House was doing some very good and essential work on Healthcare Reform we get a stick thrown in our spokes. The Corporate-controlled "Democrats" known as the "Blue Dog Coalition" have decided to support their corporate masters over the American people. The result is that 50 million people without Health coverage get to hang in limbo just a little longer.”

RDemocrat in the Hillbilly Report: Progressives in Rural America

Healthcare Lobby

See also Scare Tactics

Industry groups that seek to influence policy makers, often with sizeable campaign contributions, on healthcare legislation.

“New disclosure reports that began arriving Monday in Congress showed familiar players at the top of the health-care influence heap, including $6.2 million in lobbying by the dominant Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and $4 million by the American Medical Association.

“Many health companies and associations increased their first-quarter lobbying expenditures, sometimes dramatically. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association upped its lobbying expenditures by a full million, to $2.8 million in the second quarter; GlaxoSmithKline's spending jumped from $1.8 million to $2.3 million; Novartis grew from $1.4 million to $1.8 million; and Metlife Group reported $1.7 million, up nearly 50 percent. Allstate, which spent less than $900,000 on lobbying through March, boosted its spending to more than $1.5 million from April to June.

“Others simply kept up the pace, including Johnson & Johnson at $1.6 million and America's Health Insurance Plans and Bayer Corp. both approaching $2 million in spending from April to June. The AMA has spent a total of $8.2 million on lobbying through June of this year.”

Washington Post, June 21, 2009

H.R. 676

See also nonstarter

The United States National Health Insurance Act: a bill sponsored by John Conyers (D-Mich.) that would expand and improve Medicare for every American.

“Over 550 labor organizations support H.R. 676, as do scores of civic and religious groups and city governments. Our lawmakers should rise above the blandishments of the medical-industrial complex and vote for what’s in the nation’s best interest.”

Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program

Media Blackout

See also H.R. 676

The news media’s deliberate and purposeful silence surrounding an important issue or public policy. The strategy is designed to limit public knowledge of and participation in policy debates.

“As a big healthcare policy debate looms once again in Washington, one thing remains as certain as it was in 1993: A single-payer plan that would provide government health insurance to everyone is off the media agenda.”

Julie Hollar & Isabel Macdonald, reporters for the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

Medical Care

The practice of maintaining good health and the management and treatment
of sickness, disease and infirmity.

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948


See also Single-payer

An idea or proposal that hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.

“This debate is trapped in a vicious circularity. Single payer is a nonstarter because Obama and Sen. Max Baucus deny it the visibility they afford corporate health care plans. Corporate interests use our money to buy ads telling us that government-funded health care means federal bureaucrats micromanaging doctor-patient relations and waiting lists.

“Public health advocates have demonstrated that public systems give patients more choices with fewer shortages than corporate health bureaucracies provide. Longevity is greater. Health care consumes less domestic GNP and citizens lose less time wrangling with bureaucrats. Unfortunately the public health advocates lack the resources to gain access to our media or money-drenched political process.”

John Buell, political economist and frequent contributor to the Bangor Daily


Derogatory term used by conservative politicians and pundits to describe Obama’s healthcare reform initiative.

“With Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible. There will be a tendency to want to let the Democrats' plans sink of their own weight, to emphasize that the critics have been pushing sound reform ideas all along and suggest it's not too late for a bipartisan compromise over the next couple of weeks or months…

“[T]his is not the time to let them off the ropes. This is the week to highlight every problem, every terrible provision, in the Democratic bills: from taxes and spending to government control and rationing to federal funding for abortion and government-required death-with-dignity counseling sessions for the elderly. Throw the kitchen sink at the legislation now on the table, drive a stake through its heart (I apologize for the mixed metaphors), and kill it.”

Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard


Purposefully misleading or biased communication designed to influence public attitudes, beliefs and perceptions.

“You know, one of the propaganda pieces of the health insurance industry and Max Baucus and President Obama is they want a uniquely American solution to healthcare, by which they mean not single payer, because it’s so-called ‘socialist.’

“But it’s interesting that The New Republic ran an interview with the guy who created the Taiwanese single-payer system. They looked all over the world, and they modeled their single-payer system on our Medicare, a uniquely American solution.”

Russell Mokhiber, founder of Single Payer Action. In May, the group protested Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s refusal to include single-payer advocates at recent Senate hearings on healthcare.

Public Opinion

The views and sentiments held by the general public.

“There’s a striking gap between public opinion and public policy on a host of major issues, domestic and foreign. And, at least in my judgment, public opinion is often a lot more sane.

“It also tends to be fairly consistent over time, which is pretty astonishing, because public concerns and aspirations, if they’re even mentioned, are marginalized and ridiculed.”

Noam Chomsky, MIT Linguist and political dissident

Public Option

A “Medicare-like” system promoted by President Obama and leading Congressional Democrats that would compete with private insurance programs.

“With four months or more of intense negotiations to take place among the nation’s power players before a final deal is reached, the public option will only get weaker.

“The only clear winner in the process will be insurance companies.

“Americans will be mandated to purchase health insurance – or pay a fine. Insurance companies’ revenues – and profits – will increase under the Congressional plans. The mandate that everyone purchase insurance is one of the few consensus positions; the fight instead is over how taxpayers, employees and employers will have to pay for it.”

Mark Dunlea, co-chair Single Payer New York

Scare Tactics

What passes for principled opposition to healthcare reform initiatives.

“The game plan is based on scare tactics. And, of course, the thing they fear most is that the country will at some point gravitate toward a single-payer plan. That’s the ultimate fear that they have. But currently -- and they know that right now that is not something that’s on the legislative table. And they’ve been very successful in making sure that it isn’t.

“And they’ll be working with their ideological allies, with the business community, with conservative pundits and editorial writers, to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead us down the slippery slope toward socialism and that you will be, in essence, putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. That is—you know, they’ve used those talking points for years, and in years past they’ve always worked.”

Wendell Potter, former insurance industry spokesperson turned whistleblower


Cradle to grave healthcare for every American (a.k.a. Medicare for All)

“I mean, if people were offered a clear choice of a single-payer plan or not and told what the advantages are of having the government paying the bills, eliminating the overhead, enabling all Americans to have not just basic coverage with doctor of choice, but vision care, dental care, mental healthcare, prescription drugs, long-term care, all covered, if people knew that was the choice they could have, there wouldn’t even -- there wouldn’t be much of a debate at all.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)


One who advocates an economic and political system based on collective ownership and administration of a society’s resources and institutions.

“The way the National Health Service is represented in the United States is truly scandalous. That word ‘socialist’ is pulled out. It’s kind of infantile almost. Yes, it’s socialist. If socialist is caring for the majority of the people and taking away the fear of being denied healthcare that so many millions of Americans have -- they have this fear -- then, yes, it is.”

John Pilger, award-winning journalist and filmmaker

Socialized Medicine

See also propaganda

A term used for decades by politicians, pundits and the healthcare lobby to discourage the American people from demanding universal healthcare.

“We’ve had what the Republicans call ‘socialized medicine’ in this country for 40 years; it’s called Medicare. Everybody over 65 has it.

“The only other group besides the disabled people and those over 65 that have socialized medicine is Congress. All these people who are yelling and screaming about socialized medicine have it themselves. They go downstairs, and they see the doctor, they don’t get a bill, there’s no line, and it works great for them.”

Howard Dean, physician, former governor of Vermont, former chair of the Democratic Party


Metaphor used by Republicans who are more interested in playing politics than addressing the nation’s healthcare crisis.

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him, and we will show that we can, along with the American people, begin to push those freedom solutions that work in every area of our society.”

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)

Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of the forthcoming Understanding Community Media and writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia. He can be reached at .