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Monday, October 21, 2013

Cruising the Web

When asked if the problems of the site will be fixed by December 15, this is the lame answer that the director of the OMB is reduced to giving.
I am optimistic that we’ll continue to make progress on the issue.
I know what that means when I ask students if they'll have their research paper done by a certain date. And it isn't good.

Contractors who are working on fixing on the website are not very optimistic about getting it fixed any time in the near future. Certainly, not by the December 15 deadline for people who need insurance by January 1.
n interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.

“The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later,” said one person involved in the repair effort.
And a lot of the problems stem back to the original decision by the administration to make the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in HHS to be the ones to make sure that all the various parts of the software work together regardless of the fact that they didn't have the technical expertise to do so. And the result has not been auspicious.
Insurance executives said in interviews that they were frustrated because they did not know the government’s plan or schedule for repairs. Insurers have found that the system provides them with incorrect information about some enrollees, repeatedly enrolls and cancels the enrollments of others, and simply loses the enrollments of still others.

Correcting those errors, specialists said, could require extensive rewriting of software code. Insurers said it could be weeks before their data and the government’s could be reconciled.

Accurate enrollment data is essential. Even if consumers bypass the federal Web site and go directly to insurance companies to sign up for coverage, the Treasury Department will still need enrollment data to pay tens of billions of dollars in subsidies promised to insurers.
And it wasn't helped by letting the system go live to make the October 1 deadline even though it hadn't been fully tested. So now they're forced to rewrite hundreds of millions of lines of code on the fly. Hey, but I'm sure they'll be able to say they're making progress by December 15.

And, as Mickey Kaus writes, Plans B, C, and D don't seem to have prospects for fixing the problem. Though he floats the idea of asking Mitt Romney to come in and fix the thing. He's good at that sort of rescue project.

And Kathleen Sebelius is not helping matters by pretending that she's above having to testify before the House this ThHursday. She's just too busy, doncha know? But she does have time for attending a gala on Wednesday night. And she can travel around the country giving speeches pretending that everything is going just fine. Priorities, priorities. And the guy in HHS in charge of the technology for Obamacare isn't available for a little checks-and-balance action. And lower level HHS officials aren't available either. Well, that all fits with the entire attitude of the Obama administration all along.

And the deadlines keep getting closer.
Well, here’s a basic fact. If isn’t fixed quickly, it will run up against something called a reality check. On January 1, all Americans will be required by law to have health insurance. The deadline to apply for health coverage — and avoid paying a penalty of up to 1 percent of income — is February 15. This is not the same deadline as that marking the end of the open-enrollment period, which is March 31. So you could enroll after February 15, but you would pay the penalty. As Politico dryly noted last week: “This quirk, unearthed by industry observers, appears to have gone previously unnoticed by the administration. ‘The IRS didn’t know that,’ said Jackson Hewitt Vice President Brian Haile, who recently brought the issue to the administration’s attention.”
It's nice that the private sector can remind the administration about elements of their signature law.

Jim Geraghty is exactly right. Why should Republicans demand the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius? She's doing a great job, Brownie, right? Calls for the resignation of administration officials who are never going to resign or take responsibility for the muck-up of the bureaucracy under their control make nice rhetorical flourish for the political opposition, but that's all they are.

A supporter of the goals of the ACA writes at The Daily Beast explains why all the problems of didn't need to happen. They could have outsourced the website to private companies who have more experience in creating such websites. And they ended up hiring a private contractor, a Canadian firm no less, to design the thing.
“If you want an IT project to fail, allocate a bunch of dollars to it,” wrote former Presidential Innovation Fellow Clay Johnson. “ isn’t a book by itself. It’s a chapter in an epic saga of large IT implementation screw-ups.” That includes a military veterans health database that is so backed up with unscanned documents that the paper load is collapsing the floor it’s warehoused on.

The company hired to build’s failing database, CGI Global, is an established government contractor (established enough to have actually lobbied Congress on the Affordable Care Act). Even though Canada had previously fired the firm for a botched $46.2 million medical registry system in 2011, CGI Global was still contracted to the build the technical keystone of the U.S. healthcare law.
And the blame for the fiasco lies squarely with the attitude of the Obama administration.
Now, there are all sorts of well-intentioned reasons why the administration would behave in a closed, paranoid fashion. Republicans are circling like vultures for any weakness that could legitimize a delay or reversal of the Affordable Care Act. So the administration sweeps problems under a rug, in the hopes that they can sort out the mess later.

But these tactics are telling about the true values of the White House. When push comes to shove, it does not see democracy as a solution to problems. It does not trust citizens, it does not trust the press, and it definitely doesn’t trust the entrepreneurial spirit of small business.

Like a paranoid ruler, it only trusts what it can directly control. could have been a shining example of how an open exchange of ideas makes America a better place, setting precedent for a more innovative government generations to come. That was Obama’s big promise about the change he would bring to Washington. Now, our healthcare system is as broken as Obama’s promise.
They are the change. Except they aren't.

Megan McArdle points to four things being said about Obamacare that just aren't so. She points to this report by David Freddoso that a large number of the people supposedly signing up for the state exchanges are actually signing up for Medicaid. He goes state by state to pick apart their reported numbers of people who have signed up on state exchanges to demonstrate that the great majority of them are actually enrolling in Medicaid.
In Oregon, that 56,000 number you’re hearing today is all Medicaid. Their online exchange doesn’t even work yet. The state bulked up its Medicaid rolls by targeting food stamp recipients. So great, those folks have some kind of insurance (whether or not a doctor will see them), but it tells us nothing about the private health insurance exchanges — the middle class version of Obamacare — or how they’re going to fare.

Something similar is happening in many other states as well. Minnesota, for example, said it had 3,800 applicants. But when you scratch the surface, only 406 of these are Obamacare exchange applicants — again, most of the signups were low-income customers who were steered to Medicaid instead.
McArdle explains why this difference is so very important.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you should freak out and declare that no one’s ever going to sign up for insurance on the exchanges. In the early days of the program, we would expect to see most of the interest coming from people who are older, sicker and poorer than average, because those are the people who have found it hardest to buy cheap insurance -- and who will benefit the most from getting it, through subsidies or community rating.
But it does mean we should watch those numbers. Ultimately, Obamacare will only be economically and fiscally sustainable if it can also get the rest of the uninsured to join the ranks of the insured. Almost all of the reporting has focused on people who have found it hard to get insurance in the past. But the health of the program ultimately depends on roping in people who could easily buy insurance right now -- but haven’t bothered, for one reason or another.
It’s too early to know at this point whether most of the state exchanges can handle a big rush of people who want to buy insurance policies, because at this point, few state exchanges have yet to do so.
This is a good reminder to everyone of just how many things are in flux about this system right now. Even things you’ve seen reported widely may turn out to be more complicated than you think.
It's pretty bad when even Oprah is turning down invitations to White House promotions for Obamacare.

If you were dumbfounded by the Fast and Furious scandal, CBS's Sharyl Attkisson reports on how the administration let a bunch of grenades and other weapons get into the hands of Mexico's drug cartels all while thinking they could track the weapons before they reached the hands of the bad guys.
Attkisson, whose yeoman work exposed much of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Fast and Furious operation, acquired a Justice Department "Significant Incident Report" filed last Tuesday. It details a deadly drug-cartel shootout with Mexican police in Guadalajara last week that killed three policemen and four cartel members and in which at least 10 hand grenades were used.

Grenades have been a weapon of choice for the Mexican cartels. A cartel attack on Aug. 25, 2011, in a Monterrey casino killed 53 people. One of those used in last week's battle with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel has been linked to Jean Baptiste Kingery, an alleged firearms trafficker U.S. officials allowed to operate for years without arresting despite significant evidence that he was supplying the cartels with massive amounts of grenade parts and ammunition.

Kingery's smuggling is not directly part of Fast and Furious. But, as Attkisson reports, the Kingery case was overseen by the same U.S. attorney in Arizona and ATF office in Phoenix that let suspects traffic thousands of weapons to drug cartels in the operation that resulted in the deaths of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and ICE agent Jaime Zapata....

"Documents show they (ATF) developed a secret plan to let him smuggle parts to Mexico in early 2010 and follow him to his factory. Some ATF agents vehemently objected, worried that Kingery would disappear once he crossed the border into Mexico. That's exactly what happened," Attkisson reports.

Kingery resurfaced in January 2010 and was again under ATF surveillance after he bought about 50 grenade "bodies" and headed to Mexico. Six months later, Kingery was caught leaving the U.S. for Mexico with 114 disassembled grenades in a tire.

Kingery, who in addition to his gun-running is suspected of smuggling parts for as many as 2,000 grenades into Mexico, could have been prosecuted in the U.S. at least twice for violating export control laws. But each time, prosecutors in Arizona refused to make a case.
Where has common sense disappeared to?

So why is the ACLU working so feverishly to block single-sex classrooms?

One mother laments that high school students applying to college have to demonstrate a "passion" for some activity or interest in their high school experience.
What constitutes a passion, anyway? What alchemy transforms a childhood fascination into Ivy League gold? I suspect that the kid once known as "enthusiastic" is now "passionate" simply for the sake of college. I guarantee that mercenary college consultants, hired by desperate parents, have crafted all manner of prefab passions according to what they claim will "work" on admissions boards at Harvard and Yale.

I recall one college representative telling us: "It doesn't matter what it is. We want to see genuine enthusiasm for something." Come on. Does online poker count? How, at age 18, can most kids be expected to have identified the thing that moves them above all else?
Exactly so.


Locomotive Breath said...

Passion is overrated.

Rick Caird said...

Most of the people commenting in the press about the ObamaCare web site problems do not have coding or design experience. In my experience, journalists are notoriously bad at writing about technical issues. These are usually people who could not pass high school algebra and have trouble with computers, period.

You can get a hint at the depth of the problems with some of the comments like "5 million lines of new code". That is an immense amount of code to write, test, and debug.

A second hint comes from the statement that the logon problems are masking other, bigger problems. To understand what that means, just think that one part of a complex system builds on what happened earlier. So, if the first part is not working (like the logon), you have no idea if the next parts are working. So, now factor that with maybe 10 dependent parts all culminating with a data set sent to an insurer. How do you know anything about the quality of the dataset until everything leading up to it is working?

In addition, changes to one subsystem cascade through the dependent subsystem. If there are changes to how eligibility is calculated, that, for sure, will impact the next subsystem, but it may well impact all 10 subsystems.

A final note is that these problems cannot be addressed by throwing more people, or even different people, into the fray. There are learning curves and communication issues. The more people, the more communication is required and the more time that takes and the more error prone it becomes.

No matter what Obama says today, rest assured it will be wrong. He has no concept of the depth of the problems and how they can be resolved. These politicians will flounder around saying whatever, but it will all be lies. In the end, Barack Obama will wish he had accepted the Republican's demand for a one year delay and then he could blame it on them. But, no, he owns it and Valerie Jarrett will be of no help.