Ed Driscoll

Obamacare: On the Bleeding Edge of Advanced Technology

In early 1995, when the GOP first retook Congress after 40 years in the wilderness, Newt Gingrich was fond of giving technowonk speeches, in which he would say that “Even with all these successes and others, the Contract with America is only a beginning. It is the preliminary skirmish to the big battles yet to come.” He would then hold up a vacuum tube, like something out of your grandfather’s TV set — or an FAA air traffic control tower in 1995:

The big battles will deal with how we remake the Government of the United States. The measure of everything we do will be whether we are creating a better future with more opportunities for our children.

New ideas, new ways and old-fashioned common sense can improve government while reducing its costs. Let me give you an example. The United States Government is the largest purchaser of vacuum tubes in the Western world. This is a Federal Aviation Administration vacuum tube. Good solid 1895 technology. This is the updated mid-1950s version. When you fly in America, vacuum tubes in the air traffic control system keep you safe. Our purchasing rules are so complicated and so wasteful that our government has not been able in seven years to figure out how to replace vacuum tubes with this. This is a microchip that has the computing power of 3 million vacuum tubes. So today’s government operates this way; after we remake it, the government of the future will operate this way.

My point is this: this same reliance on the obsolete pervades most of the federal government–not just in regard to computers but in regard to its thinking, its attitudes, its approaches to problems. It’s one thing if we’re talking about vacuum tubes, but this backward thinking is entirely something else if we’re talking about human lives.

And we are. Fast-forward to the present day and a very different Washington, still running in place and decades behind the times; Red State’s Moe Lane notes that small businesses must fax(!) their Obamacare exchange applications in:

Yes, faxes are still a thing, apparently. You can even do them from your computer. And if you’re a small business owner wanting to get Obamacare coverage, you’re going to have to!

Administration officials are quietly telling key interest groups to expect initial glitches signing up online for coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Two sources tell The Associated Press that small businesses will not be able to enroll online starting Oct. 1 when new health insurance markets go live. Instead, one of the sources, a person who was briefed on the situation, said business owners will initially have to mail or fax their information so that they can enroll.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement hasn’t yet been made.

Fair is fair; why shouldn’t what amounts to a 65-year old socialized medicine program, which bears the name of the man Time magazine dubbed the second coming of FDR* be run on technology from a quarter century ago? Can you send in your fax from the beach? Because that would be so cool...if it were 1993:

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Hey, “Retro is ‘hep,’ right?”, Moe concludes:

No, wrong word… “fly?” “Phat?” “Hawt?” These young kids, and their slang… what? Hey, I never claimed to be cool. I’ve also never connived to throw the entire weight of an incompetently designed and stupidly developed monstrosity of a health care rationing system on the backs of the young, so I figure that I’m still ahead on points.

If Obamacare is taking us back a generation to an era of vacuum tubes, faxes, and stone knives and bearskins, imagine how retro it will make medical technology as well.

1984 and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, with their visions of a “futuristic” totalitarian government being run on World War II-era equipment, weren’t meant to be technological how-go guides, but try telling the White House that.

* Even before he took office — and curiously, Time meant it as a compliment, not a warning.