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Friday, October 18, 2013

Federal default averted for now, time to fix the HIX mess before the next DC standoff in January

Well, that was a 24 billion dollar waste of time and money we don't have.

We'll see come January 2014 whether they'll do it again. Meanwhile...

"For the past two weeks,, the federal government’s new health insurance marketplace, has been bogged down by problems, preventing users ... from viewing insurance options and plans on the website.

Federal officials have pointed to overwhelming demand to explain the site’s problems. But web developers, other experts and journalists have uncovered more fundamental issues with the design and functioning of the site..."
A great read. This linked story is my fav:
How The First Internet President Produced The Government’s Biggest, Highest-Stakes Internet Failure
Obama ran a perfect digital campaign — but he couldn’t control the federal contractors. Now imperils ObamaCare.

Once upon a time, Senator Harry Truman held the feet of wartime contractors to the fire, charging them of profiteering from producing the “arsenal of democracy” during World War II in hearings broadcast to the nation. Today, the scandal is not a warship that isn’t seaworthy, a plane that doesn’t fly, or rotten food. It’s a website,, that has not delivered on its mission of enabling millions of Americans to browse and enroll in health insurance plans.

The debacle is merely the most visible example of how $80 billion spent annually by the federal government on information technology falls far short of delivering the quality or service any private company would expect at a fraction of that cost.
And while this is the first time many Americans have become aware of the issues that pervade federal IT architecture, it’s hardly the first time that a federal government IT project has run far over cost and then not worked particularly well. In the wake of the botched launch, opponents of the Affordable Care Act are blaming the federal government itself, suggesting that this just simply shows the government cannot deliver on a project. But they would be wrong to do so.
At the heart of the federal IT crisis is a complex system of regulations that rewards contractors that are better at bidding on giant federal contracts than at building software. While the political figures who commission or oversee those contractors are ultimately culpable, the work itself is done by the private sector. That’s not only true of civilian agencies, as the world was reminded when a private contractor for the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, leaked key documents from the government and gave then to the press.

In fact, over the past several decades, more and more core information technology functions have been delivered by private contractors, not in-house staff. While a few government executives look for different approaches, private contracting is now the norm when it comes to how government IT is proposed bought, built, and maintained.

Given how well the Obama campaign used technology to support getting the Democratic nominee for president elected, I’ve seen many people wondering how his administration has so badly botched the technology behind his signature legislative achievement...
Matthew Holt at THCB is on it.
A Pragmatic Fix for & the HIXs

By now even those of us who originally thought that we were seeing minor teething troubles are no longer deluding ourselves., the federal health insurance exchanges (HIXs), and many of the state HIXs are in deep trouble.

One summary of many articles about this is up at ProPublica. But now that the House Republicans have stopped trying to destroy the country and themselves, attention will turn quickly to this problem, and–much worse–beyond the politics, there is now only eight or so weeks to get ready for actual enrollments for Jan 1, once you take out Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday. Getting ten or twenty million new customers on board, not to mention the small businesses who want to move from their current insurance onto the exchanges, seems like an impossible task...
 Yeah. What did I say here back in August?
Forget "HIT." Forget "Meaningful Use" and "REBOOTING" (or just "BOOTING") it. Forget "HIE." Up next? "HIX" -- the PPACA "Health Insurance Exchanges" that comprise a critical next step in the operational implementation of "ObamaCare" (or, as I sometimes call it, "AHIPcare," which is what it mostly is).

Hard right "Republicans" have vowed to obstruct (or, preferably, kill) the ACA, vowing to cause a federal debt default and government shutdown on October 1st if necessary to "defund ObamaCare" -- which, tactically at this point means, as a priority, throwing truckloads of sand in the HIX gears and cause insurance exchange failures at every turn.

Should be "interesting."

I would think that, for now, Health IT is off the radar, "REBOOT" Congresscritters notwithstanding. HIT is chump change relative to the money at stake in the PPACA.

Money quote from the Buzzfeed article:
[T]his debacle is incredibly embarrassing for the president and his administration. It’s given huge political ammunition to the opponents of the Affordable Care Act and unfortunately further damaged the trust and the government’s ability to accomplish big things throughout the country. It’s not clear if the tech will be able to be fixed in time for the second stage of people rushing to get insurance before the deadline.

It would be a historic irony if an administration that was elected using cutting-edge technology applied in innovative ways could not carry that innovation into office in support of Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. Unfortunately, unless something changes quickly, that’s how this rough draft of history will be coded.


Not pretty. First position, "above the fold." The supposedly "Liberal Lapdog" Huffington Post is giving the PPACA HIX debacle full play.

Noted medical economist J.D. Kleinke wrote a great comment under Matthew Holt's THCB post today:
...None of this should have been this hard, and this simplifying fix would go a long way to dealing with a problem created by an Administration working under political siege, well beyond the capacities of any government agency.

Along with benefitting greatly from the streamlining you suggest, this whole mess would have been avoided if (1) all the states had participated in the implementation of a law that was duly passed by Congress, and (2) we had been able to leverage the private exchanges the way you suggest across all states – and thus avoid having the federal government reinvent the wheel. We have had private exchanges in place and working for years, and not just the two you cite, but several others operated by benefits companies – and of course ExtendHealth, which has been enrolling Medicare beneficiaries for nearly a decade.

The fact that the Fed had to scramble to put a crappy exchange in place for 36 refusenik states is one very tangible example of what happens when people put politics ahead of policy – when making the President look bad becomes more important than making things work.

There are numerous technical reasons the Federal exchange is working like hell, when it’s working – but the underlying reason is political sabotage, plain and simple – from the same types who not that many days ago were willing to bring down the entire economy to make a political point.
I can't help but wonder about two things related to the PPACA HIX travail: [1] surreptitious GOP operative sabotage hacking, and [2] GOP funded "corporate espionage" -- i.e., planting "moles" amid the contractors' programmer workforce. Maybe that's tinfoil hat stuff, but nothing would surprise me anymore.

Should the Obamacare Exchanges Be Shut Down?

My sense is that the biggest reason Obamacare is now in trouble is because of the top-secret way in which the administration has handled the rollout. If they had developed the computer system in a transparent way, the marketplace would have told them long ago this would not work.

No one outside the inner circle at the Department of Health and Human Services has any idea what’s really going on behind the Wizard’s curtain. Hasn’t for months. Doesn’t now.
So any technical advice any of us could give would be, to say the least, uninformed.
If I were on the inside, and it were up to me, the first thing I would do is bring in a group of heavyweight information technology experts to tell me just what was really going on. The administration cannot trust the people who have been working on this because they told them to launch this mess on October 1 and almost three weeks in there has been no improvement on the website or in the backroom––they no longer have credibility...
The greatest threat to Obamacare right now is a computer system the Obama administration continues to defend. And maybe their inability to understand how much damage they are themselves doing to the President’s signature domestic accomplishment...
HELLO? CGI Federal? Larry Ellison? The 1990s just called. They want their database back.

Well, let's see... Expect House hearings, 'eh? The GOP will be calling for them this coming week, bet on it, with Sebelius subpoena'd to be put squarely on the hot seat. And, the President has just handed his more salivating foes an entire carcass of red meat for the next installment of Federal Shutdown and Default, coming our way in January.

Pressure mounts for Sebelius to testify about ObamaCare website problems

House Republicans are increasing pressure on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to testify about a litany of problems with the ObamaCare website in its opening weeks.

Leaders of the chamber’s Energy and Commerce Committee are pressing for public answers after the Obama administration and companies involved in the site's development and launch said the online health care exchange was “on track” for the October 1. start.

However, the site, which provides a menu of insurance plans for Americans in the 36 states without their own site, has instead been plagued by crashing under heavy user traffic, failing to let customers register or purchase plans and reportedly logging inaccurate information.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton began focusing on Secretary Sebelius after she went to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” last week to talk about the website.

“Secretary Sebelius had time for Jon Stewart, and we expect her to have time for Congress,” the Michigan Republican has repeatedly said..
Yep. What I said. More, from the gaudy, partisan NewsMax:
GOP Girds Loins for Testy Obamacare Hearings
Saturday, 19 Oct 2013 09:01 PM
By Todd Beamon

Capitol Hill Republicans are gearing up for hearings next week on the botched rollout of Obamacare — and the White House said on Saturday that about 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through the new exchanges.

The figure is the most detailed yet from the Obama administration since the exchanged opened on Oct. 1 during the partial federal government shutdown.

Still, the officials refused to tell The Associated Press on Saturday how many people had actually enrolled in the insurance markets.

Without enrollment figures, it's unclear whether Obamacare is on track to reach the 7 million people projected by the Congressional Budget Office to gain coverage during the six-month sign-up period.

The officials did not want to be cited by name and would not discuss the health insurance rollout unless they were granted anonymity, the AP reported.

Since going online on Oct. 1, the main Obamcare exchange,, has been marred by technical glitches and cost overruns — leading technology specialists to conclude that the company hired to build the site, CGI, was not qualified for the job...
It will be certainly an interesting week. My weekend comment over on THCB:
Bobby Gladd says:
October 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I wonder if any of these contractors had the requisite HIPAA Omnibus-compliant BAA’s in place?

Wonder whether they had any software QA P&P’s in place?

(Asked and Answered)

I also can’t help but wonder whether there were any GOP supporter-paid “moles” hired by these contractors and artfully working to throw sand in the HIX gears?

Yeah, it really is a CusterFluck. Obama just handed the Defunder Battalion, — on a Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platinum Platter, no less — a convoy load of depleted uranium hollow point projectiles for the January 2014 Shutdown/Default Festivities.

Wonder whether Sebelius will get dragged before a number of congressional Circus Vargas committee hearings this coming week or next?

(Asked and Answered.)

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More to come...

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