Notes From Here

On that fiasco in WA,DC…this article was particularly enlightening:

J.D. Kleinke Medical Economist & Author Would Have Worked Better
Posted: 10/20/2013 4:06 pm

By now you’ve heard that the “Obamacare exchanges” did not launch on October 1 so much as stumble out into public view, barely able to crawl.

Three weeks later, the federal version — “,” which is actually the same exchange re-deployed 36 times in 36 states — is still barely able to crawl. By contrast, most of the 15 exchanges operated by individual states and the District of Columbia are working more or less fine, for varying reasons we will explore in a moment.

Why the epic fail for, estimated to have generated a health insurance enrollment rate of less than one-half of one percent among nearly 10 million visitors? Information technologists have identified lunk-headed flaws in its overall design, while pointing to the way the Federal government rolled it out, all at once, all across the nation — as if it were a campaign commercial and not one of the most complex undertakings in the history of e-commerce.

Which would be for good reason: the federal exchange is a campaign commercial, one the Administration had no choice but to broadcast after its opponents went to war on every front against implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The architects of the ACA expected that states would build their own exchanges. The federal exchange was supposed to be a failsafe — a fallback for a few straggler states unable to build their own in time for the October 1 launch. For the rest, was supposed to do two things: point people to their state’s exchange; and handle the very complicated task of querying tax and other federal databases to verify people’s eligibility. Instead, it found itself saddled with the entire e-commerce job for 36 refusenik states.

And then the really bad decisions began. Notwithstanding the existence of several private health insurance exchanges that have been working for years — and numerous turn-key insurance exchange software systems — was hastily thrown together by CGI, a behemoth government systems integration contractor few had heard of until this week. CGI’s work was overseen by a federal bureaucracy under political siege from all directions, including most of the states it was attempting to help — while holding its breath as the very basis for the project moved its way through the bulk of the federal legal system. Obvious design problems were never addressed and worked out publicly, the administration’s energies consumed instead by existential defenses of the law and a scramble for implementation funding.

Design review? Implementation simulation? User testing? Yeah — we’re getting to that next Monday.

This is exactly how not to build a railroad. Ask anyone in the working information technology industry — or in biotech, nanotech, or alternative energy. Taking on grand projects with immense technical complexity and high risks of operational failure requires a culture obsessed with the task, rewarded for the risks, and shielded to every degree possible against uncertainty. Is that what it felt like for the people overseeing the creation of the past three years? Of course not. Which is why it is important to remember that they never wanted much of that job in the first place.

The Devil is in the Politics

Back in 2010, when the health reform plan was moving from the drawing board to the floors of Congress, its architects had good reason to believe the states would build their own exchanges — and do so competently — because two very different states already had.

The actual Affordable Care Act — as opposed to the hydra-headed political animal known as “Obamacare” — deferred a great deal of the law’s day-to-day workings to local markets and state-based insurance regulation. What is the obvious way to implement the ambitious national goal of universal coverage, while deferring to the unique conditions of hundreds of local marketplaces? With exchanges operating as close to those marketplaces as possible.

Long before the ACA was drafted, several private exchanges were up and running to do just that. There are private exchanges for large employers operated by benefits management companies like AonHewitt, Mercer, and TowersWatson; others for smaller employers and consumers operated by Silicon Valley companies like and eHealth (full disclosure – I am an advisor to GetInsured); and for years, individuals have been able to sign up for Medicare plans via ExtendHealth, another Silicon Valley company acquired last year by TowersWatson.

The architects of the ACA anticipated that most individual states would choose from among these many competing options for their own exchange — in some combination of buy, build, or lease – because they knew they were already up and working. They also took at face value the ferocious lobbying positions on various elements of the ACA, by champions of state rights, for more local control.

Deferring to individual states for the exchanges would also be consistent with the “Massachusetts model” at the heart of the ACA itself. But Massachusetts was neither the only inspiration for a state-based exchange, nor even the first. Utah was. In fact, Utah’s pioneering health exchange introduced the very idea to national health policy conversation — back during the George W. Bush Administration.

As a market-enabling mechanism for ending the dysfunctionality of local health insurance purchasing, exchanges were first championed by President Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, Utah’s former Governor. Not coincidentally, Utah is one of three states with a Republican governor operating its own exchange — an adapted version of the one it built years ago.

The real-world, red-state inspiration for the health insurance exchanges included in the ACA may seem bizarre in 2013 — but it is no more bizarre than the conservative origins of the individual insurance mandate — another odd feature of the law that inspires as much fury from the right as it does denial. But bad partisan politics can do ugly things to good policy ideas.

Those first health exchanges were operational long before there was a Tea Party movement — before the politics of health reform soured, the ACA turned into “Obamacare,” and educated people with real political aspirations started equating the law with slavery. So much for state exchanges and all the other rational, market-oriented ideas in the ACA. Suddenly, it was Civil War.

That war erupted in 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld almost all of Obamacare — except the provision that had, in effect, required states to expand their Medicaid programs. Most states responded in predictably red or blue fashion. At the same time, they also made their go/no-go decision about an exchange.

As a result, only 14 states (and DC) committed to setting up their own exchange, most of them solidly blue, though with a few odd exceptions: Kentucky went forward with its own; New Jersey did not.

Because we do not have reliable numbers yet, we cannot correlate which technology approaches by those states — buy, build or lease — are working best. But we do know from reporting around the country that they are working better than the federal exchange — because most of them appear to be working and people are managing to sign up for health insurance.

Which brings us back to the well-publicized traffic problems and miserable enrollment rate of It turns out that users of the federal exchange have to run through the entire enrollment process before they can see any of their insurance buying options. It is a simple design flaw, but a potentially fatal one. Imagine a first-time visitor with having to create an entire secure e-commerce account before ever seeing a product, or with before ever seeing a profile of anyone, or with Expedia before seeing if it had any actual flights. If there is one product design principle known to anyone who has ever worked for an e-commerce company, people browse before they buy — and many if not most of them are just browsing. The electronic traffic jams created by this terrible little design flaw multiply logarithmically.

This would not have happened if had been undertaken by an organization with the wherewithal to treat the job like

Some of the most mission-critical components of government programs are developed, built, tested and launched not by government employees or general systems contractors, but by highly specialized commercial enterprises. The federal government was not up for the task of building and overseeing a complicated e-commerce business with a significant data management back-end – any more than it has ever been up for building the military’s fighter jets, running commercial airports, or administering the actual Medicare program. (Sorry, fans of “Medicare-for-All,” but the program has always been administered by commercial insurers.)

As with national defense and Medicare, these critical programs should be mandated, funded and regulated by the government. But their execution is best left to private enterprises who compete for contracts, talent and capital, strive to foster innovation and efficiency, and maintain cultures of real accountability. If had been designed, built and launched by that kind of culture — rather than a behemoth government contractor supervised by a besieged bureaucracy — we can be certain it would be running a whole better right now.

Yes, those who built did so against a backdrop of enormous political conflict, and the failure of many states to step up and help is tantamount to sabotage. But that sabotage was aided and abetted by an administration that confused political and legal survival of Obamacare with implementation success. The administration apparently felt little need to push and pull on the product as it was being built; nor heed the very pointed advice of Bill Clinton back in February to “make it work;” nor rally the thousands of people working 24/7 on the project.

That is exactly not how things get done in Silicon Valley. would have worked better.


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Notes From Here

On that fiasco in WA,DC…I also found this article worth sharing:

Don’t Blame the Tea Party, Mainstream GOP Don’t Understand Debt Ceiling
By Nicole Belle

This is why we can’t have nice things with a Republican majority in Congress, people. And it’s this kind of obfuscation that makes sure that most Americans don’t understand what’s really going on.
Deflecting the rampant ignorance of the tea party on how government works, Tom Coburn proves that it’s not the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party that is the problem, the entire party is ignorant of what the debt ceiling is and how it works. Coburn ignores David Gregory’s disturbing touting of the debt ceiling as continuing leverage point (have you learned nothing from the last two weeks, you hack?) and complains about Congress still not cutting enough spending.

Well, David, first of all, I think the debt ceiling is a misnomer. We’ve never not increased it, and the first thing you do when you’re addicted to something is to present the reality to yourself that you’re addicted. And we didn’t do anything except create a big mess in Washington, and I’m not so inclined to think it was the tea party as much as it was outside interest groups and a few individuals within our party that took advantage of that situation. Look, the real problems are we’re continuing to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, there is tremendous amounts of waste and fraud. We have to protect the promises made to the American people, and we can do that, but we can do that spending a whole lot less money than we’re doing today.

Sigh. Coburn has been in office since 2005 and by my calculations, has been involved in nine debt ceiling raises in that time. One would hope he’d figure out what he was voting on at some point, but clearly it makes sense to him to be ignorant when there is a Democrat in the White House. I don’t recall this being an issue once during the debt ceiling raises during the Bush administration.

Part of the problem is, admittedly, the name “debt ceiling”. Every time there’s a call to raise the debt ceiling, it sounds like this is an issue of future spending, like asking your credit card company to raise your limit so that you can carry more debt. But raising the debt ceiling is to balance the books on PAST SPENDING. So to go back to that credit card analogy, what Coburn is suggesting is telling the credit card company that you’re not going to pay your balance because part of what you’ve already spent money on was irresponsible and wasteful, so you don’t want to pay for that. Ridiculous, right? The credit card company isn’t going to be sympathetic to that and neither should we any time a Republican says it. It doesn’t work that way.

Coburn, like all Republicans, is looking at this equation at the wrong end of it. The place to negotiate is not at the debt ceiling but at the budget. And in that, the Republicans have already won, because the sequester cuts have now been institutionalized. But as Harry Reid says, they haven’t learned to take “yes” for an answer.

Tags: Congress, David Gregory, Meet the Press, Republican Party, tea party, Tom Coburn, United States debt-ceiling crisis

Pics From Here



For any who may be at all in the slightest bit–and I do mean in the very teensy tiniest itsy bitsy bit here–at all interested on why I haven’t posted lately, well, here’s a few pics of my new digs now.  If you have had the chance to visit me before, you will see that this is certainly a much better improvement over my previous residence (of two years)–of which I was so unexpectedly and rudely ejected to be booted onto the street.  I should have seen this coming, though, leaving myself at the mercy of my political adversary of a roommate.  But live and learn.  At one point I got the bright idea I’d just use Google Maps to find a nice safe bush to live under, but then only to find that Boise has all their bushes carefully patrolled to prevent such a thing.  Why, they even created a special new ordinance now to run everyone poor off the streets, too!  And in these tough times no less!  So big of them, huh?  And let’s not leave out my pending eye surgery of which I’d have had to forgo if I couldn’t find a place to live…!  Fortunately, though, I was able to whine enough to the republican dog to buy an extra couple weeks, then lucked into a room till my name came up on Boise’s housing list, and finally–badabingbadaboom–I was saved!  I expect I’ll soon be back on course now, replete with the postings and comments of and on my various samplings of evening chow-creations put on by the Boise Rescue Mission. Quite apparently, I might add, for Someone’s amusement there; but of which I relish spewing on about with whatever verbage, garbage, and/or other gaseous nonsense there is to spout on about it about, which is how I maintain a sense of humor after my communions there, which I’m told I evidentally must have to be there in the first place…but which is actually more a love for ratting them out more than anthing…! Anyhoo, be all that as it may, it’s now onward and upward para moi!  My new address now finds me nicely strategically located near the Boise Greenbelt, where I can leisurely enjoy its fragrances and happy views of one of Boise’s finest assets (i.e. its river and trees)–rather than to be forced to live under them.  Yuppers, the Good Lord hath plunked me here in mine own Canaan; and now if the Good Lord will decide I’m worth keeping around (here), I promise to be a very very good person to people always!  Boy, Howdy on That!!!  Oh, Thank You Thank You So So Very Much, My Sweet Lord!!  Thou hast plunked me down and I rejoyce coninually in prayers of gratitude and worship.  Hallelujah and Armen!