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Moving at the Speed of Government

“While there is more work to be done, the team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness, and will continue their work to improve and enhance the website in the weeks and months ahead.” — The Obama White House, 2013

“Moving at the speed of government.” — Rudy Giuliani, 2007

There wasn’t a whole lot to remember about Giuliani’s short-lived effort to become the 2008 GOP nominee — but that line has stuck with me, because it perfectly encapsulates two things. The first is the obvious point that government moves slowly, when it can be bothered to move at all. The second is that Giuliani was riffing on the old UPS slogan, “Moving at the speed of business.” Politicians like to claim they can play CEO, and whip the massive federal machinery into Ludicrous Speed — but the promises always fall flat.

President Obama has promised to fix what’s wrong with Obamacare at “private sector velocity.” So to paraphrase another former New York City mayor, how’s he doin’?

If you want to count erecting a “Potemkin website,” then Obama has done an admirable job, as my friend and colleague Ed Driscoll noted last week. HealthCare.gov works to the extent that it can show you what you might pay and what subsidies you might receive, but the back end — the part which actually completes the process of selling insurance — still suffers from what physicists call “a total existence failure.”

Somehow, this is what New York Times columnist and former paid Enron advisor Paul Krugman describes as “past the hump.” “It’s going to be OK,” he told Business Insider on Friday. That’s a lot of faith in a half-built computer system which is supposed to have people — four million people — with actual fully-functioning health insurance by January 1.

From Grigory Potemkin’s original fake villages, built to impress Catherine II, to Joseph Goebbels’s “big lie” campaign against Europe’s Jews, big-government nomenklatura have always shown amazing ingenuity when it comes to fooling people. Not that I’m actually comparing Krugman to Goebbels, mind you. Goebbels was a true believer in a particularly nasty statist ideology, while Krugman is a highly paid opinion writer for the New York Times.

So let’s set the bar a little higher, shall we?

The president, still using his BlackBerry, finds himself in the awkward position of requiring fast technological action out of a federal government still dependent on 3.5-inch floppy discs. (With another hat tip to Ed D.)

But the main problem behind Obamacare right now isn’t smartphones from a dying Canadian manufacturer of obsolete computer storage media. It’s those pesky 834 files, which carry your vital information from HealthCare.gov to your insurer.

Well, in theory that’s what they do.

The reality doesn’t quite match up to the theory, as Mandy Nagy details at the Legal Insurrection blog:

Some of the files have reportedly contained data that was incorrect – for instance, the names of children appearing as spouses – while others have contained duplicate data, or there was no file at all. Without an accurate 834 form for an enrollee, an insurance carrier essentially cannot complete their enrollment.

Reportedly things have improved since the HealthCare.gov re-rollout over a week ago, but have things improved at private sector velocity? For that let’s go to Allison Bell at BenefitsPro:

Carriers have reported a high percentage of the 834s seem to be inaccurate, because of problems with the information consumers have entered, information from other sources, or programming errors.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, reported Monday during a conference call with reporters that one new fix – with Social Security numbers — eliminated 80 percent of the mistakes.

But Bataille then refused to answer questions from several reporters about how CMS arrived at the number. Bataille continued to refuse to answer questions about 834 form numbers during media calls Tuesday and Wednesday.

The issue boiled over into Thursday during a White House press briefing, when a reporter told White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, “CMS, in these daily calls, is still very opaque.”

So the answer to my question boils down to: Nobody knows because nobody’s saying.

The fact is, maybe nobody does know, even at HHS, because the back end is so messed up that the fallback paperwork pushers can’t keep up:

Federal health officials, after encouraging alternate sign-up methods amid the fumbled rollout of their online insurance website, began quietly urging counselors around the country this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people in health insurance because of concerns those applications would not be processed in time.

I suppose there is a bit of good news buried like a pony under all this horse manure. So few people have actually tried to pay real money for actual coverage, that maybe eventually the government will be able to catch up with them all — even if they’re moving at the speed of government. The fact remains however that HHS can’t keep up with demand which, according to EnrollMaven, is only about 12% of what was expected at this point.

If Obamacare really were moving at private sector velocity, it would be moving at private sector velocity through bankruptcy court.

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