Were it not for Washington politics the nation’s attention would now be transfixed on the failure of the Obamacare website.
Yesterday, Robert Pear et al. reported on the problems for the New York Times:
In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them.
Two weeks after the rollout, few would say his hopes were realized.
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.’ ”
Ed Rogers is a Republican partisan, but his column explains that there is more to the failure than politics. The reputation and prestige of American technology has suffered a grievous blow from the Obamacare site:
What the president heralds as his signature accomplishment is not only creating great domestic upheaval as a political and policy failure, it is also an immense American technological failure on display for the world to see.
The American brand has been dealt some sharp blows under this administration. We are suffering from a weak economy, reeling from the recent embarrassing debacle over Syria’s chemical weapons, and we still haven’t brought anyone to justice over what happened in Benghazi. The world watched as our enemies protected junior nobody Edward Snowden when he handed over our secrets, and now the world is witnessing unbecoming squabbling in Washington as our government remains shut down. We also have to contend with this unflattering picture of American technological capabilities. We may have invented the Internet, but our position as the leader in computer and software development has suffered a setback.
The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claim they do not know how many Americans have successfully signed up for Obamacare. Unofficial reports say that perhaps as few as 51,000 people were able to complete applications during the first week. Is President Obama angry about this roll out? Does he not know what is happening? How long can his administration pretend it doesn’t know the extent of its problems?
By the way, information technology specialists and chief technology officers seem to agree that there is no reason the Obamacare Web site should have been such a disaster. As one chief technology officer told The Post, “I think that any modern Web company would be well prepared for a launch of this scale. We’re not talking about hundreds of millions of people and we’re not talking about complex transactions.” As Forbes columnist Avik Roy points out, the HHS should have been able to “anticipate the need to build a system that can handle the average daily traffic of the Drudge Report.”
Shopping online is not new. There are a lot of templates already in place, from travel Web sites to online retailers. If the Obama administration had just admitted it needed a one-year delay in the individual mandate, perhaps it could have avoided this whole situation.
In truth, the failure belongs to the American government more than to American business. Most of the world will not make the distinction.