Site problems: Avoidable technical glitches have handed ammunition to Obamacare’s opponents

Vast IT systems are best phased in slowly

Share

Oh, the irony. A Republican strategy that attempted to hold first the US government and then the global economy to ransom over the Affordable Care Act, succeeded only in distracting attention from the travails of its launch far more effectively than the President could have done.

Despite more than 40 attempts to kill it – including a Supreme Court appeal and a 16-day government shutdown – Obamacare lives on. Now that a US debt default has been at least temporarily averted, however, the glitches that have plagued the new healthcare exchanges since they went live on 1 October are firmly atop the agenda.

The principle is simple enough: insurance marketplaces will offer subsidised cover to the 48 million Americans without it, and anyone still uninsured by the end of March will face a fine. In practice, though, Obamacare represents a complete overhaul of a $3 trillion market – a fiendishly complicated challenge even without the toxic politics.

The problem – and it is a familiar one – is the technology. Nearly 20 million people have tried to access the healthcare.gov website over the past three weeks.  They report registration difficulties, paralysing slowness, and unfathomable procedures. The President took to the Rose Garden on Monday night to try to calm the growing storm, stressing that “nobody’s more frustrated” than he is and promising that the “best IT talent in the entire country” is working on the problem. But it could still be months, not weeks, until it is fixed.

Given the chaos, is it any wonder that Republicans – still smarting from their debt-ceiling humiliation – are gleefully sharpening their claws? The fireworks will begin with a congressional committee grilling of technology contractors tomorrow, climaxing with next week’s appearance from the much-vilified Health Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

It did not have to be this way. The first mistake was to raise expectations with talk of Amazon-style marketplaces. And the error was then compounded by ignoring the central lesson of decades of large-scale IT, namely that vast systems are best phased in slowly and gently, with much re-working along the way. Such an approach may be at odds with politicians’ desire to make a splash, but the current mess is hardly preferable.

Make no mistake, the Affordable Care Act is long overdue. It is as shameful as it is indefensible that millions of citizens of the richest country in the world cannot afford to be ill. But by bungling the technology, the administration has handed ammunition to its opponents. Nor is this just a matter of bad public relations. Never mind the hysterical forecasts of socialist fiscal ruin; the real risk to Obamacare is that young, healthy people prefer to pay a nominal penalty than buy insurance, torpedoing the economics of covering the older and sicker. A website that does not work is no way to convince them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?