Obama Throws Top Spying Partner, Verizon, at ObamaCare

For the record, I hope the Administration finds a way to fix the ObamaCare website. While ObamaCare is a mix of good (Medicaid expansion, Medicare tweaks, MLR, some weakly enforceable limits on insurers) and bad (cost, corporate incentives, Caddy tax, insurance over care), if it fails it will set back efforts to improve health coverage in this country.

But I do take some of the warnings about how difficult it will be to fix the site seriously.

All that said, I’m not sure this is the “best and brightest” group of consultants Obama should have chosen to “surge” the website fix.

An informed source in the telecommunications industry said Verizon’s Enterprise Solutions division has been asked by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the performance of the HealthCare.gov site, which is a key component of the Affordable Care Act. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made official.

HHS office said Sunday the department would reach outside its government contractors to civilian companies that might be able to solve HealthCare.gov’s problems more quickly.

“Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov,” an HHS blog post said on Sunday.

HHS did not respond to a request for confirmation about Verizon. The company also declined to comment.

It makes sense for HHS to seek Verizon’s help, said Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration’s former chief technology officer and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “There is an existing ‘best and brightest’ available to call in,” Chopra said. “Verizon is one of those already under contract.”

Even assuming Verizon is among the most competent entities in doing this kind of fix, there are the optics.

Verizon is, after all, the entity that charges millions of Americans inflated rates even as it turns over data on all their phone based relationships on a daily basis. In addition, along with AT&T and Sprint, Verizon helps the government copy and scan up to 75% of US Internet content in search of secret selectors.

Verizon is, then, one of the worst examples of the dangerous marriage between big corporate and big government. Which perhaps makes it an appropriate entity to be tied to ObamaCare, but not one that will help ObamaCare’s credibility.

5 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    You got it, and I agree with coral, the Verizon web site often sucks. It can be both slow and cumbersome.

    The scarier part may be leaving HHS in the drivers seat as project manager. Reportedly they decided shortly before rollout that folks had to sign up before seeing plans and rates. As late as 9/26 they had not run a single test enrollment all the way through. Their first stress test in the last week of September crashed with around 200 simultaneous users, not the 50k-60k anticipated.

    If this level of incompetence trashes health care for another generation it’ll be more than Sibelius’s head we should all be looking for. The “best and brightest” meme is ominous. It is an indicator of ignorance if not a harbinger of disaster to come.

  2. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Having spent an hour scanning info on the strategy and technologies used to build the Healthcare.gov website, I think they’ve done some pretty smart things:

    1/ They’ve used open source software and made it completely available to anyone in the world who wants to look at it, enhance it, build add-ons, debug it, or copy it to create their own healthcare site. see https://www.healthcare.gov/developers/

    2/ They’ve made the data that will be captured within the healthcare.gov site available for reuse. (not sure about privacy implications of this)

    3/ The technology they’ve used is pretty much vanilla stuff that hundreds of thousands of people already use and understand, so a large resource base exists and no specialized skills or training should be required before someone can contribute

    I personally think the whole approach is spot on.

    So, what’s the issue? Performance. And that is almost always an issue with new systems. Why? Murphy’s law of bottlenecks: there is always another bottleneck!

    In short, no matter how much volume testing you do, users (customers) will always do something you do not expect and often it will be the most counterproductive thing they can possibly do.

    Example; if a system has a more than 2-3 second delay a user is likely to re-hit the send or enter key, and then continue to do so another 10-20 times in a fit of frustration. So, now instead of a single transaction that may have been just about to receive a response the user has created 20-30 transactions, each of which need to be understood and dealt with, slowing things down even more. Multiply that by 100,000 users and you see the issue.

    Fortunately, the fix for web based systems when performance issues hit are often solved by simply wheeling in more hardware.

    In summary, I hope as EW does that this works for the benefit it will deliver in health coverage but also because it seems technically sound and with just a bit of tuning may come right pretty quickly.

    Also, it is a good model of the way systems should be developed as it is not tied to proprietary software and suppliers; no SAP, no IBM, no Oracle, and so, no lock-in.

    I wish them all the best.

  3. orionATL says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean):

    thank you very, very much for this comment.

    i could not assess matters myself, but i am aware of the difficulties of bringing new systems on line and i suspected this was just another difgicult birthing issue.

    i too wish those trying to make this exceptionally complex program accessible on line all the best.

    we have +-40 million uninsured, the highest per capita medical costs in the world, and children who are not being supported in good health to productive adulthood by a nation that happens to be the wealthiest in the world.

    this must change and the prez has seen to it that it can.

  4. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    @orionATL: Orion, my pleasure to be able to contribute. I do see some pretty nasty reviews out there; old technology, cronyism, down right incompetence, etc, etc, and time may reveal some fatal flaws, but I didn’t identify any in my cursory review.

    But I am also aware of the huge, I repeat fucking ludicrously humungous, negative smears that the medical, pharmaceutical and generally capitalist Republican ‘maximize profits and damn the poorer in the population’ smear campaigners are pushing. Hell, they shut down the Government to prove how far they will go in supporting the greed of big-pharma and the medico’s. So future criticism of the healthcare.gov web site will likely be completely unbounded and irrational.

    I’ll watch with interest.

    But, I suspect, as outlined above, it will fire up and work as it should in the not too distant future, and then they will be shown for the nay-sayers they are.

    Don’t get me wrong, Obama should be on trial at the Hague for his drone-death-toys but as I’ve always had access to both the Canadian and Australian Medicare systems I am astonished that the US system is so insanely expensive and pathetically unproductive.

    As an aside, a mate of mine, a Canuck who lives in the US was until recently involved in a system of holiday healthcare; his group would fly people to New Zealand, or other destinations with good med facilities, have them treated, cover their accommodation costs, and fly them home to the US, for less than the same operation would cost in the US. How crazy is that, when it is cheaper to cover flights, accommodation and medical services overseas than to have the same operation at home.

    That is what the greed of big-pharma, medico’s and US Hospital services has created; an export industry for healthcare. That’s nuts!

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