A kink! That’s the noun de jour President Obama used in his Rose Garden speech last Monday to describe the problems inherent in the roll-out for which American taxpayers have laid out $400 million (with the help of our Chinese and Japanese creditors) so far, for an out-dated, under–specified, under-tested and amateurishly managed program designed to roll out the President’s poorly drafted, poorly read, poorly conceived and poorly understood Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare). The collective gaggle of public officials, elected and unelected, who are responsible for the misnamed mess called the Affordable Care Act have made sausage-making look high tech.
We suspect we’ll look back at that $400 million as an initial down payment on the final cost of the rollout of ObamaCare. Cleaning up after the rollout mess and getting it right could well cost more than the incompetence that got it wrong in the first place. It will probably take a Congressional investigation for the people to ever learn what this demonstration of federal foolhardiness will have ultimately cost. But, in the immortal words of Rocksteady of Batman fame, we suspect, “we ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The President promised a “tech surge” that would bring in “the best and the brightest from inside and outside the government” to fix the problem. One wonders where the best and the brightest were when the Obama Administration set out to design this roll out a few years ago. A “surge” (who in the world prevailed upon the President to use that term) is probably not what is called for, and some experts think a surge, or an infusion of a lot of manpower, at this stage is exactly what should not be done.
Technology expert, Robert Sullivan, author of “The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success “ says sending in too many of the best and the brightest might not be the right fix, either. Software experts cite Brook’s Law, which holds that adding people to a project often slows it down. “It’s not like a construction project, or an auto assembly line, where more hands on deck mean more results,” said Sullivan. ”With software, adding people at the end of a project to fix things that are broken or unfinished, can actually do more harm than good.”
The rigidly non-partisan Consumer Reports says that nearly 10 million people flocked to Healthcare.gov to register during the first week of this month, of which 9,729,000 were unable to create an account. That’s a 97% failure rate.
So was the rollout problem simply the result of the huge popularity of ObamaCare? That’s what New York Senator Chuck Schumer went on TV to proclaim. What nonsense! First, it appears that the software is not state-of-the-art, but rather a patch quilt of systems, some of which have been around for a decade – an eternity in today’s digital world. There was, essentially, no respectable testing of the program. No one competent rolls out even simple, uncomplicated systems without rigorous testing. One report claims that the program was crashing in tests involving just a few hundred participants in the days leading up to the October 1st launch.
The panoply of materials required to make the system work in accordance with the law is also incomplete. For example, the availability of federal subsidies to defray the cost of health insurance is an extremely important feature of ObamaCare. But millions of people will still need what we’ll call a hardship exemption from the mandatory sign-up. The law requires the completion and submission of on-line exemption forms and an adequate means of income verification. But according to non-partisan Politico the exemption forms still won’t be ready for a few more weeks and there is still a debate about how to guarantee that people who get subsidies to help pay for insurance actually qualify for them.
The Obama administration estimates 12 million people will file for an exemption, but right now the forms to get an exemption aren’t available. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the exemptions forms will be online within a few weeks. The forms are currently going through a review process and a 30-day comment period. Wouldn’t it have made sense to delay implementation until all the pieces were in place to assure that the law could be properly implemented? It would, of course, have made sense if politics weren’t driving decisions at every step. This is politics run amok.
The availability of subsidies is vital to the selling of ObamaCare, but so is the need to verify that people aren’t gaming the system in order to have taxpayers pay all or part of premiums they should, or could, be paying themselves. Most insurers, however, would be hard pressed to verify the income, year after year of applicants applying for these subsidies. Subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are available to people with annual incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $94,200 for a family of four. Single individuals with an annual income of up to $46,000 are entitled to subsidy relief. Couples earning up to $62,000 are also entitled to subsidies, and if they have children or other dependents they are entitled to higher subsidies.
The subsidies would, of course, vary depending on the precise level of income. So insurance companies are required to determine a person’s estimated income level for the coming year. Tax records, assuming the system is working, are checked to verify that a person’s income approximates the prior year’s reported income. There is a clawback provision for those cases where an individual or family has improperly applied for and received a subsidy.
Some Republicans in Congress believe, quite reasonably, that it will be politically difficult to claw back subsidies once they have been paid out, and want a more timely and precise verification process. Diane Black, a Republican Representative from Tennessee has proposed legislation to require a more serious subsidy eligibility verification process, which President Barack Obama has called “unnecessary” and says he would veto it.
The President droned on and on in his Rose Garden speech extolling the virtues of ObamaCare while cherry picking examples of citizens who have saved money or were now able to get heretofore unavailable health insurance, before acknowledging that the roll out, thus far, has been unacceptable. He said he was upset about that and that meant it would get fixed. Well, that’s very reassuring.
He also claimed that the Exchanges were, after all, only for the 15% of citizens who did not already have health insurance, and that everyone else was already reaping the glorious benefits of ObamaCare. Really? So why, then, is just about every trade union in the country up in arms over the loss of coverage directly attributable to ObamaCare? What about those workers who have had their hours or jobs cut because of ObamaCare? What about those employer-provided plans that have been dropped because they don’t meet ObamaCare standards? The cherry-picked testimonials did not, of course, feature any of those who are finding both premiums and deductibles going through the roof as their insurance providers recalibrate premiums based on ObamaCare requirements.
Liberal columnist and ObamaCare supporter, Kristen Powers, complained that when she was finally able to sign up she found that her monthly premium would double if she chose to keep her current $2500 deductible, stating that the President’s claim that you could keep your current health care plan if you liked it, isn’t quite the way things have turned out. Worse, computer security pioneer John McAfee described the ObamaCare web site as “idiotic” and “insane.” McAfee called the sign-up process a hacker’s ultimate dream (actually, he didn’t say “ultimate” — he used another, three-letter, adjective to the describe the type of dream to which he was referring). McAfee says the entire front end (the heart of the sign-up process) has to be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.
Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Sibelius, in an interview last Tuesday, claimed that she and the President were, essentially, unaware of how dicey the rollout was going to be. It is now abundantly clear that virtually everyone involved with the roll out knew it was going to go very badly. Those directly responsible for the roll out are reported to have been in a state of panic in the days leading up to the roll out. Nonetheless, we are asked to believe that no one in a position of responsibility at HHS or the White House saw fit to tell the President or the Secretary that the software and the sign-up infrastructure simply weren’t ready for primetime. Frankly, we don’t believe that.
What we are witnessing is not a “glitch,” or “a bump in the road,” or “a kink” to be ironed out. What we are witnessing is a stubborn damn-the-torpedoes-full-steam-ahead mentality. What we are witnessing is incompetence on a grand scale.