Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Spider-Web: Why The Obamacare Site Won’t Be Done On Time

[NOTE: This column originally was written on November 1, 2013 — a month before the HealthCare.Gov Website was scheduled to be fixed.]

The biggest mistake the Obama Administration made when promising the government’s health care Website would be fixed by the end of November was making that promise.  In a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach, the Administration failed to take the time to assess what actually needed to be done to make the site work.

Obama’s decision to bring in some of the nation’s top computer talent to fix the Website would have been a brilliant move had it been made when the planning for the system began.  Those with experience in the high technology world have seen the misery which occurs when a product’s design is seriously flawed and needs to be “fixed.”  The cost of major fixes after release of a product can be ten times the cost of fixing them during the design stage.

In this case, the complexity of the effort appears to never have been totally appreciated by the Administration’s non-technical decision-makers. The biggest challenge was the new system needed to connect and interact with numerous, diverse, and often incompatible existing systems such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Internal Revenue Service, et cetera. This was similar to bringing people together to work as a team, each of whom spoke a different language and none of whom knew a language other than their own.

This lack of appreciation for the new system’s complexity was magnified by (a) the failure to properly test the new system and (b) the decision to require visitors to create an account prior to being able to see the Health Exchange’s offerings.

The failure to properly test the new system was inexcusable.  That testing should have occurred more than half a year ago so there would have been time to make corrections.  Instead it was only partially done and even that was at the last minute.  Problems were identified with too little time to fix them before the system went “live.”  Other problems went unidentified until the public began to use the system.  This demonstrated an extraordinary degree of incompetence by almost everyone involved — from the top down.

Just as irrational was the decision to require visitors create an account in order just to see what was available.  This countered the entire culture of shopping in America.  Online consumers always have been able to view goods and see prices to determine their level of interest before providing any information.  Retailers and other sellers understand a key principle in marketing — “Make it as easy as possible to buy our product or service.”  The Administration, by making consumers work harder, put up a barrier which discouraged people from even exploring what was available.

By demanding highly confidential data, the Administration drove people away.  Given the lack of trust in Government, magnified by revelations of Government abuse of private information, many citizens do not want to share their private information just to window shop.  The Government’s failure to recognize this demonstrated how out-of-touch it was with the American people.

The problems with the new system discouraged those who logged on from completing the process.  As word rapidly spread how broken the system was, others did not even bother to try.  Failing to recognize how forcing users to spend an excessive amount of time on the system would discourage participants, the Government again erred egregiously.

Shopping should be simple.  Users should have the choice of plugging in their income before they shop so they can see what the actual cost of a plan is going to be.  And it should be stated upfront whether the user should enter Adjusted Gross Income or Taxable Income — which is not stated initially (yet another design failure).  Users should be able to view all the plans at once but cannot today.

This begs the question that most plans are more expensive and that, too, discourages people from signing up at all.  This will create further problems for Obamacare if as millions of healthy people — needed to subsidize those with greater medical needs — abandon the health care system.

The high tech geniuses who looked at the problem probably threw up their hands and recommended the Administration start all over but this could entail allowing the current system to limp along for many months while its replacement is built.  Maybe on November 30th the Website will work smoothly but my guess is — no matter what the Administration does — HealthCare.Gov likely will be a mess for months to come.

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Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show,” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays , and on ION Television and COMCAST Entertainment Television as well as at www.HarberTV.com.  As president of a software company, he managed the conversion of over 3 million lines of computer code for a complex statistical software product and was president of an international computers’ users group.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2013 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.
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A Teachable Moment: The Failure Of Amendment 66

In a stunning electoral defeat, Amendment 66 — representing a much-needed re-writing of the byzantine Colorado Finance Act — went down in flames despite seeming to have everything on its side.

Its supporters amassed an extraordinary eight-figure war chest — well over $10 million — which it used to blanket airwaves, e-mail addresses, Social Media ads, and mailboxes — in a dominating effort to convince voters to increase taxes by almost $1 billion annually.  Even more poignant was its lack of a well-funded opposition.  That, alone, made may pundits believe it would pass either due to the enthusiastic response of voters or, at the minimum, it would slip through unnoticed by a disengaged, off-year electorate (similar to the marijuana proposal which voters surprisingly passed in 2012 due, in part, to a lack of organized opposition).  If only supporters voted in a lackluster turnout, the proposal was sure to pass, right?

Who could be against smaller class sizes, returning art and music to the classroom, funding preschool for at-risk kids, imposing tougher standards on teachers’ classroom performance, and helping poorer school districts in desperate straits?  That would be the same as voting against the American flag and apple pie.

The proponents, however, failed to address key issues on the minds of many voters — relying on their money, ads, and organization to win support.  These issues included challenges which have been in the public eye for years but have been intentionally ignored by higher tax proponents.

Many voters do not believe spending more money on education automatically results in a better education for students, proportional to the dollars spent.  And increasing taxes in a sluggish economy did not resonate.  Given the chronically poor results in many school districts across the state and nation, despite major increases in per-pupil spending, many voters understandably question whether or not spending more actually accomplishes much.

Although Charter Schools were included in the sharing of revenue, they continue to remain at a financial disadvantage to traditional public schools.  Mustering support from Charter school families requires a greater commitment.

Changing Colorado’s Flat Tax from a single rate on net income to a two-tier structure was too great a “slippery slope” for voters to risk (i.e., why not three tiers in a few years and then four?).  A true Flat Tax has many attractions.  Going backwards was not palatable.

Many voters were worried a significant portion of the new tax funds would be used to pay outstanding retirement obligations.  They realized this meant the funds would not go into the classroom.

Proponents of more funding continue to make the mistake of “going it alone.”  Years ago, on my public affairs program, two of the guests debated education funding.  One was the President of the Denver School Board.  She wanted more funding for the classroom.  The other was a proponent of funding charter schools and offering vouchers for private schools.  I suggested they both could get their way if they teamed up.

My idea was for the two sides to join forces and seek new tax revenues such as a one penny increase in the state sales tax which would be totally dedicated to kindergarten through high school education funding.  This would include a voucher program for financially disadvantaged families (to give them some of the choices wealthy families already have) and new support for Charter schools to put them on equal footing with traditional public schools.

The proposal would guarantee public schools would always be funded at least at the same level as prior years, even if the schools were to lose enrollment. This should make the public school teachers, administrators, and parents happy because their per-pupil funding would increase.  At the same time, the rise of private schools and increase in Charter schools would foster competition among all schools.  This could only be good for students as each school was pressured to do better.

Until those seeking statewide tax increases for public education decide to join together with their opponents, they are unlikely to succeed.  Now is the time to reach out and develop a plan which will help all of Colorado’s children.  With the failure of Amendment 66, the opportunity is before us today.

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Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show,” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays , and on ION Television and COMCAST Entertainment Television as well as at www.HarberTV.com.  He was the valedictorian at Fairview High School in Boulder and received degrees from Princeton and Harvard Universities.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2013 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.
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