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The Plight of the Navigator

The navigators mentioned don't find their way around the surface of the Earth. They find their way through the bowels of Obamacare. The role of these "navigators" was described by Politico:

More than 100 groups will split $67 million to help people “navigate” the new Obamacare health insurance exchanges -- more money than the administration initially said would be available but short of what advocates say will be needed to help people sign up, especially in states where the governors are hostile.

The grants announced Thursday will go to 105 organizations, including community groups, health care providers, business groups and a handful of Planned Parenthood affiliates. The program, which got an extra $13 million from the health law prevention fund, is for those states that refused to set up their own health insurance exchanges, and the federal government is stepping in.

The “navigators” will have to fill in the outreach gaps in Obamacare-resistant states that are doing little to raise awareness of the law. With just 46 days until Obamacare health insurance exchanges open for enrollment, the timeline is also extremely tight for the groups receiving the grant awards to hire navigators and have them undergo mandatory federal training.

This stampede of mediocrity has created a hasty toxic pudding, a jerry-built monstrosity of such complexity that possibly no living human being understands it, and whose general effect is to create a jungle in which tigers, tarantulas, and giant reptiles can lurk at will. For her own part, Kathleen Sebelius dismissed any such charges of incompetence. She believes the technical problems in the program's rollout are due principally to the overwhelming enthusiasm which has caused droves of insurance seekers to crash the health care exchanges. The glitches were, in her words, "a great problem to have." They are proof of the overwhelming demand for Obamacare.

Obamacare care has often been referred to as "insurance," as if it reflected some relationship between premium, payout, and risk. But it should be abundantly clear from this peek under the hood that the "insurance" purchased on its exchanges is a product of the "rule engine," which is fed literally thousands of tax regulations, subsidies, fines, transfer payments, and fees as fast as the programmers can code them. These somehow spit out a number. That number is what you pay.

What it means, what it may include? Who knows? As the Oregon people put it: "it was constantly emerging requirements."


There is now some preliminary data on how well the system has been working. The Daily Mail reports:

Less than 1 per cent of Web visitors are signing up for Obamacare on some state health exchange websites

California's program registered an estimated 0.58 per cent of website visitors in its first day

A Connecticut congressman boasted that his state took 167 applications for Obamacare services on day one, a rate of 0.59 per cent

Obama administration won't say how many Americans signed up on the central website that covered insurance exchanges for 36 states

Kentucky's 5.3 per cent application rate seems to be the nation's highest

Other states wouldn't provide statistics, or tracked only the creation of new online accounts, not numbers of completed applications

It's anecdotal data but if there were good news the press would be trumpeting it already.  This has been a disastrous rollout.

While there have been some dark hints that New York's system jammed up because of suspiciously high traffic -- denial of service attacks? -- the most probable cause for these "glitches" is straightforward. We are watching a complex system, insufficiently tested, perhaps poorly executed and hastily rolled out, basically fail. This happens because neither Murphy nor the Gremlins ever take a day off.

Murphy belongs to no political party. He and his partner the Grem are willing to gum up anything half-assed on an equal opportunity basis.

There is nothing shameful in watching your rocket crash to the ground just so long as you realize the payload isn't launched. What is shameful is pretending to receive signals from orbit when Telstar is smoking on the launch pad.

A reasonable manager would delay the rollout until more testing can be done and the problems are understood because the chances are the more the debugger looks the more he finds. Fixing something this big isn't as easy as the movies make it look.

But then a reasonable manager would have tested the system before turning it loose. Many of you will doubtless know that even the "unexpectedly high traffic excuse" cited by the press is hardly credible. There are services which simulate test traffic and hit test sites with however many zillion hits you desire that you may configure capacity accordingly.

This miserable rollout cannot be plausibly explained by IT incompetence. A disaster of this magnitude can only be the result of politics; by the imposition unrealistic deadlines; by a refusal by managers to understand that if a system isn't ready then it ain't ready. That circumstance is sometimes difficult to explain to "political" people; to leaders who live their mental lives sweeping across the panorama of history.

Nobody ever beat arithmetic.

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