Hurting Obamacare: Computer bugs succeed where Republicans failed

Congressional Republicans could have saved the country a lot of stress – as well as about $24 billion – if they had skipped the government shutdown and just let inept computer programmers scuttle Obamacare. The rollout of the new healthcare exchanges – the heart of the Affordable Care Act – has been bungled so badly that one has to wonder whether the techies who put it together are secretly members of the tea party.

Democrats, who had their fleeting moment of glee as Republican poll numbers tanked in the wake of the government shutdown, are especially upset that the Obamacare website is such a flop. If everything had gone smoothly, their party might have gotten an extra bump in popularity, but now they look as hapless as the Republicans. That is why Democratic voices have been among the loudest in demanding that somebody – anybody – needs to pay the price for the false start.

Of course, when you are talking about a vastly complex computer system that pulls together a sea of information about healthcare plans, comparative costs, eligibility information and income data, it is no panacea to toss out those who screwed up. They need to stick around to explain the scope of the mess to whoever is brought in to redesign

There is much that went wrong when, after the website’s launch Oct. 1, millions of Americans logged on to check it out. For most of them, the site crashed, froze or ran achingly slowly. The few who got in found erroneous information about federal tax credits or discovered the site made faulty use of their applications. At least some of the many problems are being attributed to untidy coding, inadequate integration of the various site functions, old technology and poor coordination of the software that came from 55 different contractors.

It was a huge project and, clearly, those tasked with bringing it to fruition were not up to the job. However, bringing in a team of geniuses from the outside to fix it all, as is now being done, does not guarantee an instant cure. A rule of thumb in the world of high tech: Adding more people to a job simply increases the complexity and delays completion.

As a result, it is no surprise that the White House appears ready to move next year’s Feb. 15 deadline for mandatory purchase of healthcare to March 31. Given the mess with the website, a mere one month delay may prove inadequate.


Even if they did not spike the drinking water of the website’s designers, Republicans can still claim a bit of the credit for the stumbling debut of the healthcare exchanges. As originally conceived, each state was supposed to operate its own marketplace and, even now, in many of the states that took that responsibility, the rollout is working rather well. But many states refused to take part and so the people in those states are the ones stuck with the infuriating federal website.

Those non-participating states, of course, all have Republican governors whose opposition to Obamacare drove their decision to opt out. They must be thrilled that their inaction has added to the nightmare of uninsured citizens who are just trying to obtain affordable healthcare.