October 11, 2013

You recall the movie “Heaven’s Gate”, don’t you? An epic Western released in 1980, it was supposed to be the culmination of director Michael (“The Deer Hunter”) Cimino’s career, costing more than $44 million to make only to fantastically bomb at the box office but garnering a little more than $3 million in profit. Not only did it practically destroy Cimino’s reputation as a director, it became the very definition of artistic overreach and abject failure from a cinematic perspective.

I’ve been waiting to see how long it would take for the mainstream media to catch on to what others have been whispering about and trying to warn folks about for the past several months: that the Affordable Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) rollout was going to be problematic at best, an utter, unmitigated disaster at worst; something destined to become the very definition of governmental incompetence, waste, and overreach, a testimony to the federal behemoth attempting to bite off far more than it could possibly chew.

Mark down Thursday, October 10 as Barack Obama’s and the Democrats’ own “Heaven’s Gate” moment. A few techie and conservative blogs are one thing, but when its woes are splashed all over none the likes of CBS News and the Washington Post, well, let’s just say “Houston, we have a problem”. And a $634 million dollar one at that.

The most intriguing aspect of the ObamaCare rollout to me is not the politics of it, nor even the impact on average Americans who have absolutely no clue as to what they’re in for (courtesy, BTW, of a mainstream media and society of journalists who seem to have forgotten what journalism is all about – at least until the next Republican President), rather, it’s the IT (information technology) aspect of it all. After all, in a day and age where most everyone has a computer or iPhone, folks are used to IT that works easily and intuitively to get them what they need quickly. While I wasn’t optimistic, I thought it would be interesting nevertheless to see what the federal government could come up with in terms of an efficient, “high tech” gateway into Obamacare given the amount of time (3 years) and dollars to spend (originally, $97 million) at the disposal of Kathleen Sebelius’s Department of Health and Human Services.

I’m particularly fascinated by healthcare IT because when not moonlighting as a small-time blogger I just so happen to be a healthcare IT project manager (certified by the Project Management Institute, no less) who has run IT projects both large and small for the better part of two decades. Included in that time was four years spent as a consultant for a worldwide consulting firm (Keane Consulting) who was involved in a lot of government work at both the state and federal levels. So I know a thing or two about how IT projects work and bringing projects in under (or at least near) budget in both the public and private sectors.

So why is the launch of ObamaCare – Healthcare.gov – so problematic? First of all – and I’m not making this up, I’ve actually played around in Healthcare.gov – it’s clunky and looks and feels like a website one would have developed oh, ten years ago. I didn’t encounter the severe wait issues that others have, but then again there was no way they were going to get an ID and password out of me – especially given the issues they’ve already had with folks who’ve provided ID and password info, but as a frequenter of Reddit‘s techie forum, you only need to read this to know that Healthcare.gov is not only not ready for prime time, but might never be:

hahaha. my wife works on this project, but not as a developer. last night she said “i have no idea how the site is going to go live tomorrow.” well now we know.
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[–]big-blue 44 points 9 days ago

I love how they even have spelling errors in their string names i.e. ‘requiredFeild’.
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[–]MeikaLeak 21 points 9 days ago

if we can spot spelling errors in core language from just this pages output, on the production side, I don’t even wanna know what their dev environment looks like
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[–]Erif_Neerg 12 points 8 days ago

Well if you change your mind
https://github.com/CMSgov/healthcare.gov
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[–]asdlkfjasdflkjasdf 5 points 2 days ago

That’s not the code for the marketplace.
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[–]gonetosea 4 points 1 day ago

Wow, you got downvoted! Turns out you are the only person who understands this. The pages on the front end site are built using a javascript editor, saved to GitHub as static HTML, and pushed to a cache on the Akamai CDN. They can not be served faster.
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hansolo669 9 points 8 days ago

What does it all mean? I always equated my IT projects like our choir and my godfather/choir master Milt (may he rest in peace) at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church used to think about the anthems we sung during the collection. If you start out and end up good, folks will forget the bad stuff that might have happened in between. Any eCommerce website worth its salt – Amazon.com is one of my favorites – is just like that: easy to get in, easy to get out, and by and large very easy to navigate through. Healthcare.gov is none of these – it appears to be slipshod development performed by different groups who never bothered to interact in order to understand how and what the other was doing.

The most disheartening aspect of all this is that the situation is likely to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. This is not some dopey three-page HTML website – just wait until the inevitable “I thought I got signed up but the IRS has sent me notice I have to buy insurance”, or “wait a second, I backed out of the application before I bought anything but here’s my $347 monthly premium bill” problems start hitting down the line. It’s embarrassing, it creates further distrust in a federal government already deemed by many to be bloated, wasteful, and ineffective, and, worse above all else, it involves the health and well-being of many and the economic future of the United States. And it aint gonna get fixed in just a few day’s time.

Maybe a year’s delay wouldn’t be a bad thing after all…

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 00:43 | Comments (0)
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