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The Krell Machine

October 15th, 2013 - 1:08 pm

Readers of this site will recall that on the first day the Obamacare exchanges rolled out it was plain that they were complete failures. Their woes were not due to high traffic or minor glitches but something more fundamental. I wrote: “the problems experienced were the direct consequence of the length of the law and its attendant regulatory complexity. These regulations are often called “business rules,” and they have to be implemented in software. The Obamacare ruleset is now reportedly eight times the length of the Bible and still growing. This has had unavoidable results.”

The problems were caused by the “business rules.” But the initial belief among liberal pundits was the opposite. they delightedly concluded they were witnessing a massive success; in the words of one tweet the sound of the exchanges crashing was the sound of ‘millions of Americans buying affordable health insurance and nothing the Republicans can do about it.’ That celebratory shout dwindled to Ezra Klein’s recent whimper. He now believes Obamacare really does have technical problems and the administration should ruthlessly purge these wreckers from the ranks of its contractors.

But they still believe that nothing is fundamentally wrong with Obamacare that the efforts of Stakhanovite programmers won’t fix. Megan McCardle, who is by no means a mindless acolyte of everything liberal, follows this thread at its face value, asking a developer what  ’soon’ might mean in this setting. She received this reply.

One person familiar with the project says it’s only about 70 percent of the way there, and has heard estimates of somewhere between two weeks to two months to fix it. As a programmer I know points out, “two weeks to two months” is the programming equivalent of “40 days and 40 nights”: “A long time, but I have no way of knowing how long.” When I used to hear estimates like that, I used to assume it would be coming in on the late end of that range, earliest.

But I disagree. This is not just a case of programmers missing their code quotas; nor just a 40 days and 40 nights problem. As I noted from the first, it is a “business rules” problem. The thing is specified wrongly.  Gordon Crovitz, writing in the Wall Street Journal says the same thing.

The functional failures of the Affordable Care Act websites are well-documented, but the fundamental flaw is the law’s mind-numbing complexity. The officials who planned ObamaCare blame their Web engineers, but they’re passing the buck. ObamaCare is a hugely complicated approach to addressing problems in health care that have simpler solutions. …

The Government Accountability Office last year calculated that for the IRS alone, implementing ObamaCare would be a “massive undertaking that involves 47 different statutory provisions and extensive coordination.” Among them: “disclosure of taxpayer information for determining subsidy eligibility,” “drug manufacturer tax” and “high-cost health plan tax.” Senate staffers created a mind-boggling graphic showing ObamaCare’s various agencies and regulators, which can be viewed at http://1.usa.gov/acamess.

Readers should click on the site to see the chart, but for the convenience of those who don’t have the time here is a thumbnail of that diagram.

40 Days of Night

40 Days of Night

Program that. And program it so that nobody ever winds up in jail.

Remember that many of those neatly drawn boxes actually represent complex legal objects the violation of which may result in penalties or even jail. From the current condition of the system it is evident — even to Ezra Klein — that the Obamacare ship has put to sea with the shipwrights still aboard. This much is already consensus.

The question the diagram raises is actually different. What the blueprint above asks is whether this ship can ever float in principle. It asks whether the architecture by itself is proof of incompetence; whether it is ipso facto an act of criminal negligence.

But then maybe we’re not looking at the diagram of a ship at all. Avik Roy at Forbes concludes that our puzzlement evaporates the moment we realize the blueprint represents a completely different object. The purpose of the machine depicted in the chart is to transfer money from your pocket to another pocket and power over your health choices from you to the boys who run this gizmo.  That’s what it does. And maybe it does this brilliantly.

The answer is that Obamacare wasn’t designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions. …

This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly.

If that is its purpose then the problem of Obamacare goes beyond the implementing code. It goes to right to the design and the questions are fundamental. Is Obamacare intended to provide “affordable health care” or is it designed as an income transfer machine as Avik Roy alleges?

If it’s designed to provide cheap and quality health care then maybe we’re S.O.L. since some things seem doomed from their conception to fail due to some fundamental violation of the rules of physics or mathematics. As a health care system it appears perverse. But as something else … why …

The question anyone who looks at Obamacare as a healthcare system should ask before sending the programmers down to the shafts for their 40 days and nights of Stakhanovite labor, is “what does this do?”


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Top Rated Comments   
drbatman: "But deeper than that is the objective of making the entire system fail so that there will be clamor for a government controlled single payer system."

That clamor exists already. Even His Highness Soetero bothered to tell the assembled peons that he would have preferred a government-payer system to ObamaCare.

But we should not assume that the failure of (unpopular) government-run ObamaCare will lead to a massive outpouring of support for government owned & operated ObamaTotalCare as a replacement. If the Institutional Republicans (and any hypothetical moderate US-friendly Democrats) had half a brain and a very minor amount of testosterone, they would blow the mainstream liberal extremist Democrats to pieces on that. Big IF ...

Even assuming that the Institutionals show their total worthlessness once again when ObamaCare fails (Jonnie McCain, that's you we're talking about), the rapidly deteriorating financial picture will make any further expansion of government impossible. Can't run the credit card up indefinitely, especially since they are borrowing & printing for consumption rather than investment. We are getting very close to the point where China, Russia, Saudi will set functional limits on US government expenditures.

Personally, I welcome Peak Government -- which will be a global phenomenon. And in the meantime, I welcome the health benefits that Soetero has accidentally bestowed upon millions. Those benefits will accrue from individuals realizing that they need to avoid the healthcare system as much as possible -- by watching their diets, exercising, driving carefully, avoiding random sexual encounters. And by coming to terms philosophically with the inevitable fact that in the end we all die, regardless of how health insurance is organized.
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26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would define our government as a Kakistocracy, government by the worst and most corrupt; rather than an Idiocracy. Idiots may not be deliberately malicious, and may accidentally do something that has a positive impact on the commonweal.

In addition to the Caucasian Cluster Copulation [my response to the term "Chinese Fire Drill"] that is the Democrat Obamacare Site; there are a few details:

1) as far as has been reported so far none of the miniscule fraction of those who have been able to actually get a price quote has gotten one for less or equal to what insurance currently costs,

2) it is always considerably more,

3) the deductibles are high enough to make it the equivalent of not having any insurance at all,

4) and the co-pays are always greater than 50% of the medical cost.

Of the 30-40 million people who cannot afford health insurance today; after Democrat Obamacare is in force 30-40 million people will still not be able to afford health insurance. Only they will be prosecuted and persecuted by the IRS for not being able to afford it.

Subotai Bahadur
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
When you hear that a software system is 90% complete,
you know all that's left is the other 90%.

and

Finance is the art of moving money from place to place until it's all gone.

Thank you, ladies and germs.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (119)
All Comments   (119)
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(This was supposed to be a reply, hit the wrong button, sorry, new to the Pajama Way):

PeterBoston: Obamacare has two long-term objectives. One is the wealth transfer mechanism mentioned above, the other is to uniionize all health care workers, including the spouse or child who provides in-home care to a family member.

Except the flaw in that theory is the strike that's about to happen among the grocery store workers here in Washington State, affecting Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertsons, and QFC. The issue is that management is about to dump them off their private health care plan onto the very Obamacare that their union helped ram down our collective throats. So go figure.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
--now that we got Appomattox behind us yesterday evening, we're now in the postwar 'reconstruction', featuring many odd-appearing carpetbagger/scalawag combinations. Carpetbaggers were Republican-supporting yankees piling on the ruined structures of the South, but they usually worked with 'scalawags' --who were locals, defeated confederates, who sought profit, or just employment, or just a share of a crop, in carpetbagger joint ventures. Carpetbagger intellectual cover was 'reform' and Scalawag cover was 'realism'. Most confederates just went back to farming, while the southern 'firebrands' --the intellectuals who had spurred the succession and who held themselves 'above' scalawaggery, preferred to drink, and drink and drink and drink, to the 'Lost Cause' --right on up into the 1950s.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
It should be kept in mind, when looking at the Bynsantinian organizational chart for Obamacare, the chart wasn't drawn up by the laws enemies, but its friends.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
hdgreen said: In 2007 I was surprised to learn that 93 percent of the American people thought the quality of their health care was either good or excellent.

I never thought that, I find major fault with most medical care I have experienced or witnessed, not to mention the closing of ER's because of the uninsured. These are all the theoretical motivations for something like Obamacare. But if even the web site doesn't work, it only shows what any normal person should know, the road to xxxx is paved with good intentions, it takes more than that to ACTUALLY solve the problem and incompetent attempts CAN MAKE IT WORSE.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The astonishing thing is the alt.twentysomethings who voted for Obama because Rolling Stone said was "cool". Their unemployment rate approaches even that of the melanin-demographic Obama has chosen to identify with (it was a 50-50 tossup). They think they're immortal (I know, I was one once), so they never bothered to sign up. Risk pools are for geezers. Now their buddy Obama is saying they better do it, using a website that doesn't work, or pay a fine. Come 2014 they're going to feel like someone waking up one morning naked in his neighbor's back yard after taking Ambien.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hallooo, Teresita! Welcome back to one of us - I've missed your posts. (Maybe you've been Posting and I've missed'em.)
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Off Topic -- or maybe not. I was trying to get onto the White House site to let Barry Soetero know how much I appreciated his leadership of the US and the world. The site has an anti-spam question: fill in the answer --
"If a shark is black, what colour is the shark?"

Black? Shark? What kind of subliminal message are the lads in the People's House trying to send? But I was particularly struck by the European spelling of "colour". It is like Soetero is not even trying to hide the fact of his anti-Americanism any more.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hmmm, well, "colour" is the Canadian spelling for the word. Did that Canadian company that fouled up the Obamacare rollout also take over running the White House website?
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The shark is African-Selachimorphan of course.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
--obliging the conceit, that would be Selachimorphan-African, as you have to state as Genus-Species. If 'african' is above Genus, it would be 'Family'--indicating 'all sharks are Africans', not as the joke intends, that 'all Africans are sharks'. Right?
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Master Lao said too many cooks spoil the meal. Works for jokes too.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
He's turning British? Uh-oes!
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
ErisGuy

"Say, isn’t Obamacare a tax?"

Says whom? You mean SCOTUS I assume. But John Roberts has shown himself to be very deferential to the People's House. Vox Populi counts with him. So raise your voices. Now that there are citizens who are affected by ObamaCare, there will be someone with standing to challenge the law. Previously there were none. So ObamaCare still has to run the gauntlet. Even Democrats now call it a "train wreck".

SCOTUS turned down Al Gore's appeal in Florida. They may do The Right Thing once again.

SAY YOUR PRAYERS!
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Boehner was never going to win one for the Gipper. The public is going to have to win it for themselves. People like Boehner may play a tactical role, but only if and for as long as their feet are held to the fire.

However, the fact that it has taken him this long to fold is due to one thing. The public outcry against Obamacare and deficit spending. This had to effects. First, it forced him to resist the administration harder than he would have. But it also played to his self interest. He could hold out for more against Obama.

Not that he necessarily held out for "more concessions" in the public weal, but he held out, in part from self-interest. So the takeaway is something did change, some public power was in evidence, though not nearly enough to carry the day.

But this is how it must be. A period of increasing resistance to city hall; a time of small victories as a prelude -- the nay the only hope -- for an eventual win.

I think its important to realize that the conservatives did not win, but equally important to realize that this time the liberals had to really fight hard to break back. And I will argue they haven't broken back. Where are they going to get the money? This is a problem they cannot solve. And therefore this is the reason they cannot win. Not in the end.

We are now moving from a strategic defense to near strategic stalemate. What comes after is the strategic offense. Not there yet, but you can smell it.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The current Nyquist column is gnawing at the same notion. His title "Can Capitalism be Saved" is misleading in it's somber hint of another page of gloom. He has a line --maybe it's a Mises quote --in the text that ought to be the title: "Let 'er Rip!"

--as the economics slogan that could come to the top, now that we will soon have proven to everyone's satisfation that mother nature simply will not long abide artifice --she'll soon destroy the new jump-off platform for the man-made improvements. yeh, that sounds Darwinist, i know.

http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/jr-nyquist/can-capitalism-be-saved
.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well I sampled it ... but I disagree, there is no call for a Republican party to oppose efforts at improvement because they are hypostatized as a progressivist "religion", it was traditionally and maybe still Republicans who favor technology over slavery and mass labor, as opposed to Democrats who apparently can't build a working web site for $600,000,000.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
--what i took him to mean was in the observation that anti-socialists fight socialism with socialism's own concept. Heck, there's an example right there --I'm anti-socialist means inter alia that i'm anti-human or inhuman.

But we didn't always accept critical theory as the moral frame of society. There was a time when if someone had told you that your ma & pa had a baby not to bring you onto the earth, but to increase their sphere of influence within the oppressive hierarchical model, you would've laughed --and maybe knocked 'em on their ass.

Critical theory, the material dialectic, marxism the words religion --they turn Genesis into "genes is".

"Let 'er Rip!" could stand right there, as human nature --but it's much better than that --it's actually the only road to the workers' paradise --which USA came mighty close to from say 1945 to 1975, then 1980 to 2000 or so.

Jesus during his ministry often stayed at rich men's houses during his travels. He was a rich man's houseguest for the several weeks before he entered Jerusalum and began his last days in regular order.

Funny that those who preach the immorality of natural law and efficiency as tool, are the same ones who want to take away those things from the human race and return it to the glory days of hunting and gathering, wiping out neighboring tribes, starving when the weather's bad, and generally living that short brutish life red in tooth and claw.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Boehner's surrender doesn't change anything fundamental."

Must disagree.

Boehner's surrender essentially is an acceptance of Obamacare. Obamacare will fundamentally change America - politically, economically and constitutionally - all for the worse in ways we are only beginning to fathom.

The probability of repealing Obamacare now goes close to zero. Boehner's party - the Republicans - are now owned by the multinational corporations and those corporations like Obamacare, and will fight to keep it.

So, unless there is a new party or a major upheaval within the party, we will be stuck with the tyranny of Obamacare forever.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
No more letting po' folks remain outside the risk pool and just get their health care at emergency rooms and letting hospitals pass the cost on to their paying customers. This is the worst thing since states made all drivers get insurance or pay a fine when they are caught.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Emergency rooms --yep, that was the hook alright, that got the ball rolling --Pelosi sorts in high dudgeon saying "I don't want to pay somebody's emergency room bills, do YOU?"

But if you look at the stats, you'll see that e-rooms represent about a point of healthcare biz, and that they average an 85% receivables-paid. So that big humongous flaw in the country's healthcare system amounted to 15% of 1%, or a penny and a half loss per ten dollars of healthcare, or 15 cents loss per $100 worth of healthcare. Now, to save that, we'll get $100 loss per 15 cents of healthcare. There, we sure fixed THAT problem, didn't we.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
We fixed that problem by getting everyone in the risk pool, including the indestructible little farts you see skateboarding to their job at Amazon.com, the ones who won't draw out of the system until they hit their forties.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...until they hit their forties" and become destructible big farts.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
In a technocracy, software engineers exist to write code for the insane ravings of concerned scientists (anthropogenic global warming climate models) and of delusional politicians and pettifogging bureaucrats (Obamacare exchanges).
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Who came up with the name "Obamacare"?

If it was opponents of the system, it was a mistake. Every time you mention the name , you are, unfortunately associating the word "care" with a pResident who seems to have something in mind that is altogether different from "care".

If the proponents, chief among whom is the "Obama" in question, named it thus, then they should be pilloried mercilessly for "criminal hubris" for starters.

If Nixon had tried to roll out a monster like this, the democrats may have endorsed such a spectacular socialist boondoggle, but they probably wouldn't have let it be called "Nixoncare". They would have insisted on a "fluffy" acronym.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
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