The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Awful, just Awful

Even The New York Times, one of the Obama administration's most ardent supporters, cannot avoid noting that the Obamacare rollout, and the website that was supposed to give it a wiz-bang high tech feel, is an unmitigated disaster. NYT reporters Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen write:
For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

“These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.'”
I have worked in the software engineering space for over four decades, have consulted for many Fortune 500 companies, written best-selling books on the subject, served on the editorial board on major industry publications, been an expert witness and mediator for major IT conflicts between government and its contractors, and seen my share of IT disasters first hand. From a technical perspective, the ACA website is a textbook example of what not to do in a software engineering project. But failed projects are common in the software biz. What is more interesting is what it exemplifies.

At some level, the disastrous ACA web-based system is a reflection of many of the Obama administration's policies and/or programs: poorly planned, poorly executed, inordinately expensive, and ineffective. After three years of preparation and expenditures that are literally mind-boggling, the ACA website is a case study in bad software engineering, bad management, and wishful thinking by a leadership that simply doesn't have a clue. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars, sacrificed in order to meet an ill-conceived partisan political objective. It is a mess ... but it is nothing compared to the much bigger and more profound mess that the ACA will make of healthcare in the United States.

The reporters continue:
By early this year, people inside and outside the federal bureaucracy were raising red flags. “We foresee a train wreck,” an insurance executive working on information technology said in a February interview. “We don’t have the I.T. specifications. The level of angst in health plans is growing by leaps and bounds. The political people in the administration do not understand how far behind they are.”

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, warned in June that many challenges had to be overcome before the Oct. 1 rollout.

“So much testing of the new system was so far behind schedule, I was not confident it would work well,” Richard S. Foster, who retired in January as chief actuary of the Medicare program, said in an interview last week.
For those who are unfamiliar with large, failed, "death march" software projects, this is classic.

Yet, the irony is that The New York Times has repeated castigated those who had the temerity to suggest that the entire Obamacare program be delayed -- you know, until it was working properly. Nah, the geniuses at the White House, who believe that fantasy trumps reality, pushed forward, despite warnings, despite concerns, despite professional advice to the contrary. Then fantasy collided with reality, and the result (for them) is not pretty.

Those of us who in 2007 expressed grave concern about Barack Obama's lack of executive background and real-world experience warned that bad things would result as a consequence of his election. One of those bad things was that the newly-elected president appointed advisors just like him—political ideologues with no private sector experience. Tough guys all, they sneered and suggested (according to the NYT) that "failure was not an option." "Failure" had a different opinion.

When the history of this presidency is written, this episode may become emblematic for an administration that was so encumbered by arrogance and hubris that it failed at virtually everything it attempted. Elections have consequences.

Update: (15-October-2013):

There's very little doubt that the ideologues in the GOP who pushed for Obamacare defunding made a significant strategic error. Stupid, in fact! The ACA legislation is so bad that the best thing for the GOP would have been simply to let it roll out.

The consequences of a rollout are already being felt. The Washington Examiner reports:
For some able to get the problem-plagued Obamacare website to work, the so-called “deals” the system is coughing up around the country include $12,600 deductibles, co-pays of up to 40 percent, zero competition, and rate hikes of 260 percent.
Obviously, those who are given "subsidies" will probably be pleased with pricing (or at least that's what Democrats hope), but when average middle class taxpayers realize that they are subsiding the insurance plans of their neighbors, they may not be quite as happy.

Update - II (15-October-2013)

It is conceivable that the problems with the ACA website will be resolved and that people will be able to register (if nothing else) before the deadline. That won't eliminate the fundamental structural problems with Obamacare, but it will allow Democrats to claim that the system is "working." But what if the problems are not fixed? Ben Domenech comments
So what’s the worst case scenario? Honestly, it’s this: if this is as big of a failure as it looks like at the moment, and the problems are not fixed within the next two months, the Obamacare project could end up backfiring in a way that could have dramatic effects on politics and policy going forward. It will contribute to distrust in government’s basic capability. It will fail to live up to its promise, and wreck the insurance markets for no good purpose. It will represent the administration betraying its strongest supporters. And it may ultimately leave President Obama wishing John Roberts had ruled the other way – turning him into a martyr for the cause as opposed to putting the burden of proof on actually implementing his signature policy.