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Is it health care, health-care, or healthcare?

WASHINGTON — Several former Obama administration officials were on their regular Wednesday morning conference call this week, plotting against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, when Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, said on CNBC that his party should shoot for “the lowest common denominator” on health care.

Within moments, the former president’s associates had blasted out Mr. Price’s comments to Capitol Hill and beyond, accusing President Trump and his Republican allies of another “scheme to repeal health care” developed in a “secret back room filled with the most extreme anti-health care voices in their party.”

In all the angst about Trumpcare, a point of grammar has been overlooked.  Is it health care, health-care, or heathcare?  

In English, a compound noun or adjective is correctly written with a hyphen.  For instance, ‘off-road vehicle’ is correct.  Any English dictionary will recommend the hyphen, rather than ‘offroad.’

American dictionaries follow the colloquial use of words, even when the spelling is incorrect.  Publications, like the New York Times and most American newspapers, follow ‘‘health care.’   One might imagine, that at some point in American history, ‘news’ and ‘papers’ were separate words too, which (one may assume) progressed from ‘news-papers’ to ‘newspapers’ as popular misuse became ‘accepted’ practice.  

There may not be a certain moment in history when ‘health-care’ became ‘healthcare’ but I doubt that ‘health care’ as a noun and adjective was ever correct English, certainly not in my lifetime anyway.  Maybe, once up a time, the word ‘lifetime’ had a hyphen too but lazy writers dropped the hyphen and, like magic, the word has become ‘lifetime.’

In correct English, rather than American English, ‘health care’ is one word ‘healthcare,’ which is used as a noun and an adjective.  If one prefers to re-insert the hyphen, it would not be ‘wrong,’ but ‘health care’ is incorrect.  Ironically, until more Americans spell the word incorrectly (from an American perspective), as one word, it may take years for the correct form to find it’s way into the lexicon of American English.

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Professional. Retired. Canadian.

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