What most frightens those who have ever built a database application isn’t finding that it doesn’t work, but discovering, after some minutes of false satisfaction, that you are getting different answers to the same query.
Most professionals will try to fix the problem. But there’s another alternative. Hide it. Pretend the system works and keep up the charade as long as you can. Kathleen Hennessy of the Los Angeles Times describes an incident which might have taken place in Stalin’s Russia or the Death Star. Prior to it failing, the “President was told [the] healthcare website would work, official says” — even though it wasn’t working.
WASHINGTON — President Obama was assured that the healthcare insurance website was ready to launch on Oct. 1, even as private contractors and some administration officials knew the site had failed in early testing, a senior White House advisor said Sunday.
Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer said the president repeatedly asked about the healthcare.gov website, a key piece of his 2010 healthcare overhaul legislation, and was told it would meet his expectations.
Along with the president, Pfeiffer hyped the website in the weeks before the troubled launch, promising it would “be a consumer experience unmatched by anything in government, but also in the private sector.”
The system had been in free fall for three years, but nobody wanted to listen. “Three years ago, a trusted Obama health care adviser warned the White House it was losing control of Obamacare. A memo obtained by CBS News said strong leadership was missing and the law’s successful implementation was in jeopardy. The warnings were specific and dire — and ignored.”
David Cutler, who worked on the Obama 2008 campaign and was a valued outside health care consultant wrote this blunt memo to top White House economic adviser Larry Summers in May 2010: “I do not believe the relevant members of the administration understand the president’s vision or have the capability to carry it out.”
Cutler wrote no one was in charge who had any experience in complex business start-ups. He also worried basic regulations, technology and policy coordination would fail.
Naturally nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news, to tell the Big Guy that his Legacy — his claim to public immortality — was lying in ruins on the coding floor. Instead they told the Boss what he wanted to hear. It’s fine boss. In the words of Matthew Yglesias before the rollout:
I’ve got a new column up about the White House’s plans for the rollout of the Obamacare exchanges and I wanted to once again take the opportunity to lay down a marker and say once again that Obamacare implementation is going to be a huge political success.
You can say that again.
In effect, they faked the query that management was waiting for. And if the database kept giving a different or nonsense answer each time they pretended it was consistent by relying on hacks, toadies and claques to reassure the occupant of the Oval Office that everything was just fine.
The White House dismissed these and other warnings. It relied on appointed bureaucrats and senior White House health care advisers. Fearful of constant attacks from congressional Republicans, the White House became secretive about the law’s complexity and regulatory reach.
This was ethical because everyone knows that the Narrative is stronger than Reality. Given a choice between fact and fiction, print the fiction. As Deval Patrick put it, Obamacare is not a website. It’s a statement of values.
So when it became apparent that the website was well and truly broken, the first instinct of the White House was to implement more sleight of hand. Applicants were told alternative enrollment methods were available even if in reality the alternative was a cruel hoax, since those taking their details by phone still had to use the same broken system they were supposed to replace.
Internal memos from the Obama administration suggest Obamacare’s Web problems are holding up the entire enrollment process, including the phone and paper options that President Obama and top officials are pushing as an alternative to the troubled HealthCare.gov website, according to a report by ABC News.
“The same portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted (paper, online),” an Oct. 11 memo from the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight says, according to ABC.
“The paper applications allow people to feel like they are moving forward in the process and provides another option,” it says. “At the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue.”
But at least the public feels better. Obamacare may not give you insurance to treat your dread disease, but it gives you the Hope that you will. And if you keep feeling hopeful until you’re too sick to care then the problem is solved. What the Administration apparatchiks are now worrying about is how to keep the public from ever learning the truth about their higher insurance premiums as Jake Tapper explains:
Washington (CNN) – Officials expressed concern that the next shoe to drop in the evolving story about the Affordable Care Act would be disappointment from consumers once they are able to get on the troubled HealthCare.gov website – disappointment because of sticker shock and limited choice, according to a new document obtained by CNN.
“Mike described a general concern of PM (Project Management): getting to the point where the website is functioning properly and individuals begin to select plans; the media attention will follow individuals to plan selection and their ultimate choices; and, in some cases, there will be fewer options than would be desired to promote consumer choice and an ideal shopping experience. Additionally, in some cases there will be relatively high cost plans,” say the notes from the Obama administration’s Obamacare ‘War Room’ from one week ago.
The president may by now resigned to the fact that consumers will eventually see how they’ve been ‘helped’. But so they won’t have time to be outraged by the draining feeling of thousands of dollars leaving their pockets, he’s prepared a PR blitz on immigration reform to change the subject. The Daily Caller reports:
President Barack Obama will go on the offensive this week to shift the public’s focus away from the catastrophic and politically damaging roll-out of his Obamacare network.
He’s got a closed-door Nov. 4, meeting with political allies at his Organizing for America group, where he’s expected to tout the program which is driving up health-care costs for millions of Americans.
He’ll push for a big immigration increase on Tuesday, fly to Texas on Wednesday for a health-care speech, and jet to New Orleans Friday for another speech on the stalled economy.
It’s a brilliant move, relying on the well proven fact that no one remembers a toothache after being struck on the head by a 64 ounce hammer, a treatment whose efficacy has often been demonstrated by Moe on Curly Joe. By applying this sovereign remedy it is virtually certain that by this time next month no one will remember Obamacare because they’ll be caught up in some new catastrophe.
Of course none of this fixes the problem, merely hides it and spins it away; a process similar to pasting a static picture on the front glass of a dead Iphone to make it seem like it’s working. It may not be working at all, but it won’t matter as long as the customer is distracted long enough for the vendor to sell it and get away.
The Economist says that Barack Obama’s supporters are worried that he is “a terrible manager”. Nothing could be further than the truth. He can sell anything, even if the product never ever works.
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