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.


  1. Related question: What’s the best tag (hashtag, Publish2, Delicious, etc.) to use? health-care? healthcare? “health care”? — I think I’ll root for healthcare, all one word.

  2. That is a great question. The trend seems to be to eliminate spaces because of the different ways tags are handled and forgetting to use quotes around a multi-term tag. In this post, I tagged it both health care and healthcare. but if I was using a hash tag on Twitter or saving to Delicious, I’d definitely use “healthcare.” I actually think over time health care will morph into healthcare.

  3. As a medical transcriptionist, I use health care as a noun and healthcare as an adjective, much along the lines of follow up and followup. Here’s to your “good” health!

  4. This is always the way it works, two words that are commonly used together tend to become one word over time.
    Sometimes it goes through a hyphenated phase, sometimes it does not. You’re quite right that health care will morph into healthcare–in fact you showed in this post that it’s happening! The frequency with which the words are being used pretty much guarantees that in this case there will be no hyphen. There won’t be time for that mutation to take hold.
    When a word is in flux, there simply is no right answer.
    Same thing applies to words that are transliterated into English from a language with a different kind of alphabet. There just isn’t a right answer, it’s a style choice. I once had an editor working for me who spent days trying to figure out how to “properly” spell Gadaffi. Drove her nuts to give up, but there is no right answer!
    The only thing to do is create a style sheet–keep track of your own decisions and be consistent.

  5. I worked as a technical writer for an HMO several years ago, and as lead editor I was able to choose the standard. I went with healthcare. It was simpler, and the marketing department was already on that track. I’m a big fan of consistency.
    (Please excuse any errant numbers in my comment. My one-year-old son is helping me type!)

  6. Switching from “health care” to “healthcare” saved me half a dozen words on a newspaper article with a strict 700-word limit. Advantage “healthcare”!

  7. I say it’s healthcare. “Health care” has become a whole concept of it’s own, entailing hospitals, insurance, government programs, etc, the most important issue in politics (right now) even, and in doing so, it has become it’s own thing, not just another type of care, but it’s own new issue apart from care, thus “healthcare” as a word.

  8. I like the medical transcriptionist’s “health care” is a noun, “healthcare” an adjective.
    News headlines and articles, however, seem rarely to use the adjective, as in “healthcare reform”, coining instead a new noun, “health care reform”. This cleverly disguises the fact that the reform is not about healthcare practices at all, but rather about health insurance. More’s the pity: “care”, “insurance” and “coverage” have become synonymous.

  9. To me, health care as one word (except in tags) is as odd as peanutbutter. Or, as I sometimes see mostly from British writers, Whitehouse and Superbowl. The adjective seems like it should hyphenated, but we don’t usually hyphenate peanut-butter sandwich.

  10. I’ve loved all the comments about this in a “safety in numbers” kind of way. It is reassuring to know others have found health care, health-care, healthcare as vexing as I. And from the comments, it’s definitely not a settled issue.

  11. I am trying to think of a title for a multidisciplinary studies major that I have come up with concentrating in health care…I am staying away from the clinical aspect (aka biology, chemistry, etc) but am taking anatomy and basic clinical lab science, and am staying away from management and administration. Any suggestions for a title for my major?

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