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Sympathy for the Devil: The Obamacare online disaster

So the web site the government built to allow people to sign up for the new healthcare exchanges doesn't work. I've read a lot about it and as far as I can tell, nobody has managed actually to sign up for an insurance plan. The one guy who claimed he had, turned out to be a fraud. The situation is so bad that Obama supporter Jon Stewart is making fun of it. (I'm not sure if the New York Times has even mentioned the problem, but then the Times isn't a real news source like the Daily Show.)

It's possible that the programmers of the site were (as has been charged) simply incompetent. That's what a number of the experts being interviewed by big networks are saying. But my guess is that this was a very complicated problem, and I wonder if anybody is competent enough to have built this boat so it floats.

I certainly don't want to cut anybody in the administration any slack at all. In the real world, Ms Sibelius would be looking for a new job right about now. And of course, the system should have been tested. The fact that it wasn't going to work on day 1 should have been known before day 1.

Nevertheless, I would like to offer a small, tentative and hypothetical defense of the programmers. (It's hypothetical and tentative because I'm making a lot of assumptions about the nature of the challenges they faced.) My guess is that the complexity of the so-called "Affordable Care Act" system (with its exchanges and plans and tax consequences and all the rest) probably makes Amazon's database look like a recipe app. And to make matters worse, there have been various changes to the details of the law since it was first passed. The more complex the system, the more difficult it will be to incorporate changes in the rules the system observes.

So I do feel a wee bit of sympathy for the programmers.


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