Thursday, October 24, 2013

Incompetence on parade

The ongoing train wreck that is Obamacare is just starting its chain reaction of destruction. This week alone, half a million more people were notified that their insurance policy is being dropped. Obama promised that "If you like your insurance, you can keep it." Well, not so much. The exchanges are the centerpiece of Obama's crowning legislative achievement, so you would think that he would make sure they were implemented flawlessly. He did throw $634 million at them, but he didn't take the most basic of steps to ensure that they would be ready for prime time on October 1.

More people have had their existing insurance coverage dropped due to Obamacare than have enrolled for new coverage in the Obamacare exchanges. And the deadline to avoid the individual mandate penalties, which fine uninsured people, is rapidly approaching.

Yesterday CBS ran an expose revealing that the teaser prices which visitors to the web site are quoted when they browse the system are often half of what the insurance actually ends up costing.

Insurance companies are complaining that the "applications" they receive from are unusable, with garbled, wrong, or missing data. One application listed the applicants four children as his "spouses".

The "Hub" of the insurance exchange system is responsible for verifying the eligibility of applicants and determining how much their policy will be subsidized by all of us, the taxpayers. Well, the Hub is not finished and won't be until sometime next year, so the web site quotes subsidies which may or may not actually exist. It remains to be seen who will be left holding the bag for subsidies which should not have been granted. I fully expect to cough up the money.

When the website first went live, the White House tried to spin the problems as being a result of the huge demand for "quality affordable health insurance." So many people flooded the web site that it could not keep up with the traffic, or so we were told. The fact that the web site didn't work was used as evidence of the importance of Obamacare. Yeah. Today's testimony indicates that in the days before the public debut of this $634 million debacle,  the people testing the system could not get it to work with even one user at a time. The traffic load didn't break it. It just doesn't work.

Twenty four days after the launch of the web site, it is still essentially unusable. Consumer Reports says to not bother trying to use the site. I've gone a few times to try it out. I encourage you to try it too. After five or six tries, I was able to create an account and verify my identity. Now I'm sure I'm me. But I couldn't get beyond that. I have not been able to do so much as view the insurance options, which is my real goal, let alone have an opportunity to apply or obtain insurance.

I'm not alone. A number of states have said that no one has been able to successfully obtain insurance through Most states have had a handful of hardy and persistent individuals who managed to navigate the klunky web site and apply for coverage. These people are being treated like celebrities by a media who seems to think that such attention will promote the rare success stories, but in reality it just emphasizes that the system does not work for the vast majority of visitors. Today it was pointed out that more people have booked one-way passage to Mars than have bought Obamacare insurance at

On Tuesday, Obama's Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, told CNN that Obama didn't know anything about the problems with the web site until after the site was launched on October 1, marking the fifth time that Obama has deployed the "I'm clueless and incompetent" defense this year. He is President, and these things are under his administration, so he ought to know what his own people are doing. That is doubly true in this case, where his reputation, credibility, and legacy are directly tied to the success of his signature accomplishment.

I have been involved in a number of software development projects, and I can tell you that with any level of project management, there should never be an unpleasant surprise for the people in charge at the end date of a project. This is not super-advanced stuff. It's project management 101. Central to any viable plan is a schedule with trackable, measurable milestones. Management can measure the progress at any point by looking at the milestones and asking "Are we meeting our dates?" and "Are we meeting our functionality and performance metrics?" If they identify a problem, they have time to address it, reallocate resources, or make adjustments to get back on schedule.

According to testimony in today's Congressional hearings, they never tested the system until a week before it went live nationwide. This is unbelievable. In the software industry this is called "Big Bang" integration, which is discussed in the chapter of "Software Development for Dummies" titled "What not to do". It means that they developed all of the pieces separately and then on September 23 when they put them all together for the first time, they were surprised that the whole system didn't magically work. A system of that size never works the first time you try it, and expecting otherwise was inexcusable.

Instead of a Big Bang integration, a continuous integration model is the industry standard. This means that two years ago they should have had the very most basic infrastructure of the system being tested. This would be the functionality that every user needs, like being able to create an account, log in, and access generic data. This would be tested and evaluated while the next layer of functionality was being developed. Next might be templates for different states, different insurance plans, and application data. As new functionality is added, it would be integrated into the working baseline, and every day automated regression testing would ensure that the new additions did not break the existing functions. At any point, management should be fully aware of the status, what works, what does not work, what is on schedule, and what is behind schedule. If Obama was not seeing demos of a working system six months ago, he should have been very concerned.

For months there have been news reports indicating that the exchange would not be ready on time. Check out this one from Bloomberg back in June. I knew about it, and so did lots of people. How did Obama not know about it? This was the guy who was supposed to be the smartest, most competent President ever. He was playing 7-dimensional chess while everyone else in the room was playing checkers. Sorry Obama, fainting women in the Rose Garden will not distract us from the fact that you are not up to the job.

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