Obamacare, Three Weeks Later: Broken Code, Bad PR, and You Still Have To Buy It

Obamacare, Three Weeks Later: Broken Code, Bad PR, and You Still Have To Buy It

How vividly I remember the Christmas season of 1999.

I was newly engaged, and my future husband and I were giving joint Christmas presents for the first time.  We had a large party to go to and shop for, and he insisted on using Amazon to do a chunk of that shopping to “save time.”  I was hesitant, but we placed a rather large order on Amazon.

That order started trickling in, but a week after it was due to arrive, we still only had two of about 15 items.  And one of the boxes we received was strangest thing of all – we’d gotten a copy of Lotus Notes 6, which we had not ordered at all – and it actually had a sticky note on it that said “WRONG ITEM”… and it had still been shipped to us anyway.

Everything else arrived late, we ended up having to shop in brick-and-mortar stores, and we sent most everything back for a refund.

It put me off of internet shopping for years.  Amazon had been heavily promoting itself as a “one-stop online shop” that Christmas season, and we weren’t the only ones that year that had problems with them.  As we all know, Amazon straightened their game out, and the last time I had a shipping problem with Amazon and spoke to a customer service representative, they were apologizing for my shipping issues, tracking my package, and offering me a gift card for my trouble.

It’s been three weeks since the launch of the Obamacare exchange websites, and it’s reminding me of my first experience with Amazon.  Except that the IRS wasn’t standing over me, telling me to shop from Amazon or I would have to pay them a fine.

The story is now out that the Healthcare.gov site was barely beta-tested, that the code itself may be faulty (it is using a completely open source code, for those of you who understand such things), and how it could take months to get the site operational.  There’s now going to be a “tech surge” to fix it – but these fixes are happening live, without the system going offline for a major overhaul.

Now, I am not an IT professional.  But I am married to one.  I asked him what he thought of the code problems, the story that the code itself is outdated, and that one of the biggest theories behind the mess is that the IT people were told to take out the income verification part of the website at the last minute (a part of the law, incidentally, which President Obama waived arbitrarily, and the GOP had reinstated in the budget agreement).  My husband looked at me and said, “If that is true, then yeah, it’s no wonder the site is a mess.”

He tried explaining it to me, and what I gathered is this (explained in layman’s terms):  Everything in code is linked together.  If something is removed from the code, other code has to be altered to reflect that removal.  You can’t just delete a line of code and say, “There!  It’s gone!  Problem solved!”  That would be equal to knitting a sock, finding an imperfect snarl in one of the fibers, and cutting a whole chunk of sock out to remove the imperfect snarl and saying, “There!  The snarl’s gone!”

And any sane person is left staring at the hole you cut and saying, “Uh, you just ruined a sock.”

The unbelievable part of this entire website fiasco is that the Obama administration, and the Obama campaign machine, has always promoted themselves as tech-savvy.  It’s only now that we learn that the Healthcare.gov site was designed by CGI Federal, based out of Canada (so much for American jobs, eh?), and they were paid quite a lot of money for a product that doesn’t work..  And their CEO was a donor to the Obama campaign.  Hmmm.  Of course, the CEO also donated to several other campaigns, including Romney’s.  Nothing like spreading the cash out on both sides of the aisle to cover all the bases, right?

The website is so bad that even Consumer Reports is giving out advice on how to use the site, but their pro tip is to simply not use it for at least another month.  Yes, really.

The average person who voted for President Obama and wants to sign up for Obamacare via Healthcare.gov or a state exchange, is stymied by the inefficient website, lost in a 404 Error loophole of hell, and is now being told by the President himself to apply over the phone or with paperwork.  Did someone not tell him that all that information is still going to have to be entered into a website that is still functionally crippled?

The average person is used to dealing with Amazon.com and getting customer service.  What they are getting with Obamacare is a political project that may have had its code messed with at the last minute with no testing, and they are being told to like it and buy it.

We don’t even have to talk about the sticker shock, or the insane rising deductibles, or the mandatory coverage requirements.  Yet.

There are two dates that I want everyone to keep in mind.  The first is Thanksgiving weekend.  If the “glitches” in the online exchanges are not adequately de-bugged by that point, I would expect to see panic setting in.  The other date to remember is December 15th.  That is the last date by which a person can purchase health insurance and have it take effect by January 1st, 2014.  If you don’t have insurance by January 1st, then you are subject to the Obamacare penalty tax of $95 or 1% of your income, whichever is higher.  (Registration for health insurance continues until March 31st, but you will be subject to the penalty tax for not having coverage before that time.)  If the online exchanges are not operational enough to handle basic registration, comparison of plans, and purchase of plans, then I would expect that the individual mandate would have to be delayed.  The administration would be facing a multitude of lawsuits from eager lawyers who would love to see their names attached  to cases and their faces on TV, as they trot out the average person who simply can’t access a website and is going to be fined for someone else’s “glitches.”

Oh, and in the real world, someone would have been fired already for this failure.  I have not heard one peep about Secretary Sebelius, whose Health and Human Services department is on the hook for this, being fired – in fact, the White House says they have “full confidence” in her.  Too bad they are the only ones.

Stay tuned for our continuing coverage, and keep December 15th in mind.

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8 Comments
  • Peggy L. says:

    You can expect it to be delayed, Deanna, but it won’t be. How do you think obamacare is going to make it’s money? By having the site not work and people being fined.

  • Nice work, Deanna. I’ll be sharing this.

  • Jodi Giddings says:

    IF – and that’s a huge IF – this Monstrosity of Big Government Inefficiency is delayed, it will be for one reason, and one reason only: No, not because it’s harming Americans nationwide, but because the 2014 mid terms are fast approaching.

  • Merle says:

    The Peter Principal at work!

    Merle

  • Normally, I don’t bother with him, by Jon Stewart’s takedown of this object lesson in government efficiency IS funny, as well as disconcerting. But the bigger story is of course, when you’ve lost Jon Stewart…

  • […] “There are two dates that I want everyone to keep in mind. The first is Thanksgiving weekend. If the glitches in the online exchanges are not adequately de-bugged by that point, I would expect to see panic setting in. The other date to remember is December 15th. That is the last date by which a person can purchase health insurance and have it take effect by January 1st, 2014. If you don’t have insurance by January 1st, then you are subject to the Obamacare penalty tax of $95 or 1% of your income, whichever is higher. (Registration for health insurance continues until March 31st, but you will be subject to the penalty tax for not having coverage before that time.) If the online exchanges are not operational enough to handle basic registration, comparison of plans, and purchase of plans, then I would expect that the individual mandate would have to be delayed. The administration would be facing a multitude of lawsuits from eager lawyers who would love to see their names attached  to cases and their faces on TV, as they trot out the average person who simply can’t access a website and is going to be fined for someone else’s glitches.” —Deanna Fisher, Obamacare Three Weeks Later: Broken Code, Bad PR, and You Still Have to Buy It […]

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