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We’ve often talked of the differences between capitalism and corporatism. We are living through a real life demonstration as we speak. Where? In Obamacare. This is true on several levels.
One the law, distorts the market by requiring some coverage irregardless of the customer’s (that’s us) desires. One example is that I, as a roughly 60-year-old single man have very little need for maternity benefits, but the law requires me to buy them. Why? Most likely because it’s important to increase my cost to offset something else in the law. Like that women use more health care and are therefore more expensive to insure, but you can’t charge to reflect the fact.
There are plenty of these things in the law, pretty much all of them increase the cost of coverage.
You know, of course, that you are required to buy insurance. Why? And in truth most of these plans have annual deductibles that are higher than I have spent on health care in my life, which is why, except when I had an employer sponsored plan, I’ve never had health insurance, I’ve just paid my bills out-of-pocket and gone my way. Granted I’m not average, I suppose, I’m perhaps healthier than most, but not spectacularly, I just don’t go to the doctor every time I have the sniffles. Insurance companies love me, I’m nearly pure profit after underwriting. But I don’t love insurance companies, they are very nearly a pure cost to me, without benefit.
In truth, I’m at the age now, where I would be considering buying at least a catastrophic plan, but Obamacare has outlawed them. So I’ll have to reconsider.
That’s one way the law interferes with an efficient (let alone free) market.
Then there is the implementation.
Government programs are often contracted out, as they should be, the government does very little well. This contract process usually attempts to find qualified contractors, and then the contract is issued to the contractor offering the lowest price. It works, after a fashion. It leads to some jokes like the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission after their problem looking at each other and asking how it feels to be going to the moon in a vehicle built by the lowest bidder. But it’s reasonably fair to all parties, and the government does have to purchase things. There are comparable things in the private sector, and if the specifications are properly drawn (sometimes a big if) it works well. It is a bit (sometimes a lot) cumbersome though.
So if you need something done very fast, there has always been a way to sole source contracts. The left used to love to talk about Halliburton in Iraq, specifically one of their contracts, which was sole sourced. It was to drive gasoline tankers across Iraq during the war, and it was for cost-plus one dollar. This one was to the government’s benefit but, the system is easily abused.
And that brings us to the HHS department and Obamacare. It appears that a lot of the IT work was awarded on sole source contracts (and no, gentle reader, they were not cost-plus a dollar, either). They agree to have been awarded to cronies of the Democratic party. That’s very bad management, and possibly corrupt. But the worst part is that it appears they were not particularly competent either. John Hinderaker of Power Line Blog has an article up with a cogent technical discussion.
Software expert Dan Weber, in a comment on Marginal Revolution, offers a cogent technical explanation of the failure of the Obamacare launch:
The front end technology is not the problem here. It would be nice if it was the problem, because web page scaling issues are known problems and relatively easy to solve.
The real problems are with the back end of the software. When you try to get a quote for health insurance, the system has to connect to computers at the IRS, the VA, Medicaid/CHIP, various state agencies, Treasury, and HHS. They also have to connect to all the health plan carriers to get pre-subsidy pricing. All of these queries receive data that is then fed into the online calculator to give you a price. If any of these queries fails, the whole transaction fails.
Most of these systems are old legacy systems with their own unique data formats. Some have been around since the 1960′s, and the people who wrote the code that runs on them are long gone. If one of these old crappy systems takes too long to respond, the transaction times out.
Amazingly, none of this was tested until a week or two before the rollout, and the tests failed. They released the web site to the public anyway – an act which would border on criminal negligence if it was done in the private sector and someone was harmed. Their load tests crashed the system with only 200 simultaneous transactions – a load that even the worst-written front-end software could easily handle.
Continue reading Why the Obamacare Rollout was a Disaster, I’ll wait for you.
As it happens, I don’t and never did write COBOL, although I know people who did, I sort of learned FORTRAN IV a scientific language that we used in engineering, and I learned to program (and debug) on punch cards. You younger people have no idea how easy you have it. :-)
It’s hard, and I’d guess interfacing that stuff to a website leads to lots of hangovers. Not least because the programmers who really knew how to use those languages are pretty much retired (or dead).
And then when your prime requirement for getting the contract is political connections and/or contributions, you have set the whole process up to fail, the only question is, did you know that or are the executive level employees so incompetent that they didn’t understand what they were doing?
My friend Gilia at the Hump Day Report is here to tell you about some of the connections involved. I’ll bet we find more. Here’s Gilia
It pays to be a friend of the mighty Obamas. While the American people have spent over half a billion dollars on the botched ObamaCare website, and the administration has wasted over 3 years getting it ready, King Barry and Queen Michelle’s friend are doing quite well. Check this out (shaka to DocMarv):
Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate is executive at company that built Obamacare website
4:57 PM 10/25/2013
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate is a top executive at the company that earned the contract to build the failed Obamacare website.
Toni Townes-Whitley, Princeton class of ’85, is senior vice president at CGI Federal, which earned the no-bid contract to build the $678 million Obamacare enrollment website at Healthcare.gov. CGI Federal is the U.S. arm of a Canadian company.
Townes-Whitley and her Princeton classmate Michelle Obama are both members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni.
Toni Townes ’85 is a onetime policy analyst with the General Accounting Office and previously served in the Peace Corps in Gabon, West Africa. Her decision to return to work, as an African-American woman, after six years of raising kids was applauded by a Princeton alumni publication in 1998
George Schindler, the president for U.S. and Canada of the Canadian-based CGI Group, CGI Federal’s parent company, became an Obama 2012 campaign donor after his company gained the Obamacare website contract.
As reported by the Washington Examiner in early October, the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed only CGI’s bid for the Obamacare account. CGI was one of 16 companies qualified under the Bush administration to provide certain tech services to the federal government. A senior vice president for the company testified this week before The House Committee on Energy and Commerce that four companies submitted bids, but did not name those companies or explain why only CGI’s bid was considered.
On the government end, construction of the disastrous Healthcare.gov website was overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of longtime failed website-builder Kathleen Sebelius’ Department of Health and Human Services.
Update: The Daily Caller repeatedly contacted CGI Federal for comment. After publication of this article, the company responded that there would be “nothing coming out of CGI for the record or otherwise today.” The company did however insist that The Daily Caller include a reference to vice president Cheryl Campbell’s House testimony. This has been included as a courtesy to the company.
Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/10/25/michelle-obamas-princeton-classmate-is-executive-at-company-that-built-obamacare-website/#ixzz2ixBAYpM7
Friends With Benefits.
To be honest, in all business there’s a level of this, we all like to work with our friends. I don’t get very excited about it as long as the work is done competently, on time, and on budget. But when you can’t hit even one of the goals:
“Houston, we have a problem.”