Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rough Start

I don’t think that anyone with any knowledge of the web and the internet thought that the roll-out of the Obamacare websites would be easy or error-free.  Ezra Klein doesn’t mince words.

Windows_XP_BSODWe’re now negative 14 days until the Affordable Care Act and most people still can’t purchase insurance. The magnitude of this failure is stunning. Yes, the federal health-care law is a complicated project, government IT rules are a mess, and the scrutiny has been overwhelming. But the Obama administration knew all that going in. They should’ve been able to build an online portal that works.

Early on, President Obama like to compare the launch of the Affordable Care Act to Apple launching a new product. Can you imagine how many people Steve Jobs would’ve fired by now if he’d launched a new product like this?

So is anybody going to be held accountable? Is anybody going to be fired? Will anyone new be brought in to run the cleanup effort? Does the Obama administration know what went wrong, and are there real plans to find out?


One thing has gone abundantly right for the Affordable Care Act: The Republican Party. Their decision to shut down the government on the exact day the health-care law launched was a miracle for the White House. If Republicans had simply passed a clean-CR on Oct. 1 these last few weeks would’ve been nothing — nothing at all — save for coverage of the health-care law’s disaster. Instead the law has been knocked off the front page by coverage of the Republican Party’s disaster.

Let me give you a microcosm of the task the administration had.  When we installed a new accounting software system at the Miami-Dade County school district, it took us nearly three years to get all of the elements together: payroll, budget, personnel, accounting, purchasing, auditing, grants, and the hundreds of tentacles that tie all of them together.  We went through countless days of design, testing, consultation, more testing, training, yet more testing, and when we finally went live it was bumpy as hell for the first six months.  People complained bitterly about not being able to get it to work, there were jokes about “workarounds,” and even to this day, three years later, we’re still working out some very recalcitrant kinks.  And we’re just one — admittedly very large — school district.

Now imagine you’re doing it for the entire country with fifty or more different portals and under a very tight deadline, working with rules and regulations that very few entities in the private sector have to deal with.  Oh, and don’t forget that all the while you have a very dedicated bunch of people with a lot of money and big mouths working against you the entire time.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’re actively sabotaging your work behind the scenes.

I’m not trying to excuse or sugar-coat the problems with the Obamacare go-live.  But I also think that unless you’ve actually done something remotely comparable to it — and on a scale that no one has before — perhaps you might cut them a little bit of slack.

From my own experience I can tell you that six months in, we all hated the new system and desperately wanted the old — I’m talking from 1979 — one back.  Now we can’t imagine how we ever got anything done with the old one.

4 barks and woofs on “Rough Start

  1. Don’t forget that the ACA’s federal portal has about triple the originally forecasted traffic. This is because two-thirds of the states are run by wankers who refused every single carrot offered to participate and instead preferred sticks.

  2. Fine reporting on this in the Times. Not only was the task going to be monstrous to begin with, but the programmers wanted to get a start on it only to cool their heels while the government wrote up the final final specs. This wasn’t finalized until April. Then the Republicans did what they do when they sequestered funds for everything so the money was short even as everyone knew it was going to be an issue going in. The man in charge says the worker bees are doing heroic work to fulfill their assignments – long hours and weekends. It appears that 70% of the reboot is done, but when the last 30% comes in is anyone’s guess. It could take another couple three months.

    We don’t need carpers like Klein.

  3. I have managed projects of somewhat similar scope, but in the private sector. What they have done in the given time period is amazing. For it to have glitches is to be expected. Please everyone calm down.
    Sure good people are working very hard to make it right. They will succeed.

  4. I’ve read about allegations of people going to the site just to jam up the traffic. No confirmed facts, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And then there are “looky loos” who want to see what’s going but have no intention of signing up.

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