The Health Care Spectator

Hope and Change in Action

Even the best and brightest can't fix HealthCare.gov. 

By 10.25.13

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Instinctively I always agreed with William F. Buckley Jr. that, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” Watching the implosion of HealthCare.gov, I now know it for a fact.

Would those first 2,000 people have the temerity to waste half a billion dollars on an IT infrastructure that doesn’t work remotely as advertised and then blame political opposition that had no part in its creation for its failure?

Would those 2,000 say with a straight face that a doubling or in some cases tripling of health insurance premiums is “affordable” for Americans?

Would those 2,000 describe, like White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the widespread and fatal problems with the Obamacare websites at both the federal and state level as simply a matter of needing to work “more effectively”?

Would those 2,000 force Americans to pay a fine, per the Affordable Care Act, for not signing up for insurance on websites that don’t work? Mr. Carney would not answer that question when asked earlier this week.

Would those 2,000 lie about the problems with the websites and hide what went wrong and how long it will take to fix them?

Would those 2,000 decline to say how many people have purchased insurance through the exchanges to date like the president’s administration – the one described in a major new report as the most secretive since President Nixon?

Would those 2,000 refuse to hold the person responsible for building and launching the site accountable for its failure?

To put things in perspective, can anyone imagine a website built by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s government operating any worse than HealthCare.gov?

Making matters worse is the media’s propensity to bring in political operatives to enlighten American audiences about what has gone wrong and what it’s going to take to fix problems instead of people who actually know something about technology.

As the late great liberal columnist Molly Ivins wrote in 1987, “The American press has always had a tendency to assume that the truth must lie exactly halfway between any two opposing points of view. Thus, if the press presents the man who says Hitler is an ogre and the man who says Hitler is a prince, it believes it has done its full measure of journalistic duty.”

She’s right.  No one would hire a political consultant to fix a sink, so why do the major networks incessantly ask people with no quantifiable IT skill to weigh in on the infrastructure problems of Healthcare.gov? Couldn’t CNN’s Piers Morgan, for example, have asked as a guest someone from Silicon Valley, or even the local Best Buy, instead of Mr. Carney on October 21 to discuss the failures of the site?

On the bright side, I hope the failure brings fresh scrutiny to how many billions have been spent on computer systems throughout the government that don’t work as intended or at all just as the decadent 2010 General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas focused attention on out-of-control conference spending in multiple federal agencies. Just because the best and brightest are the ones who are in charge in Washington does not mean that they should be allowed to disregard the rules the rest of us must follow.

I also hope that the incompetency on full display in HealthCare.gov translates to a new skepticism of big government by Americans because this is what hope and change looks like in action. What should be obvious to anyone by now is that convening the first 2,000 people in the Boston phonebook to build HealthCare.gov would have resulted in a far superior product.

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About the Author
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives.  Write her at marta@martamossburg.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.