Monday, October 28, 2013

Finally - a Clear Explanation of What's Unfixable about Obamacare

For weeks now, I have been reading accounts from all corners of the Web about why the Obamacare Website is not functional: there were too many people attempting to use it all at once; there were 500 million lines of code, and they couldn't all be tested before rollout; the code produces a "denial of service attack" on the site itself, etc., etc. All the result of partial guesses, but not the whole truth.

Now from a comment left at a site called Marginal Revolution by a certain Dan Hanson (h/t: Powerline blog, who [following an incorrect link at the MR site, wrongly credits the comment to Dan "Weber"]), there emerges clarity about the fatal flaw behind Obamacare. For the site to be able to give the would-be purchaser of insurance accurate pricing information, it first has to connect with a series of government and private servers:
The real problems are with the back end of the software. When you try to get a quote for health insurance, the system has to connect to computers at the IRS, the VA, Medicaid/CHIP, various state agencies, Treasury, and HHS. They also have to connect to all the health plan carriers to get pre-subsidy pricing. All of these queries receive data that is then fed into the online calculator to give you a price. If any of these queries fails, the whole transaction fails.  
Most of these systems are old legacy systems with their own unique data formats. Some have been around since the 1960′s, and the people who wrote the code that runs on them are long gone. If one of these old crappy systems takes too long to respond, the transaction times out.
In other words, the Obamacare site crashes because it can't get timely responses from some of the much older computers serving government agencies, which use completely different code, data formats and processing. So fixing the Obamacare site will actually mean fixing the older computers? Others at the MR site suggest that one can incorporate "timeout" failures into the coding, requiring purchasers to check back in later, but Mr. Hanson says that will not solve the main problem:
When you even contemplate bringing an old legacy system into a large-scale web project, you should do load testing on that system as part of the feasibility process before you ever write a line of production code, because if those old servers can’t handle the load, your whole project is dead in the water if you are forced to rely on them. There are no easy fixes for the fact that a 30 year old mainframe can not handle thousands of simultaneous queries. And upgrading all the back-end systems is a bigger job than the web site itself. Some of those systems are still there because attempts to upgrade them failed in the past. Too much legacy software, too many other co-reliant systems, etc. So if they aren’t going to handle the job, you need a completely different design for your public portal.  
A lot of focus has been on the front-end code, because that’s the code that we can inspect, and it’s the code that lots of amateur web programmers are familiar with, so everyone’s got an opinion. And sure, it’s horribly written in many places. But in systems like this the problems that keep you up at night are almost always in the back-end integration. 
The root problem was horrific management. The end result is a system built incorrectly and shipped without doing the kind of testing that sound engineering practices call for. These aren’t ‘mistakes’, they are the result of gross negligence, ignorance, and the violation of engineering best practices at just about every step of the way...
"Horrific management" does not begin to describe the problems with Obamacare. They began with a bill that was passed solely by Democrats in Congress, in violation of the rules and without any opportunity to read what was in it, and that had been drafted mostly by the lobbyists for, among a myriad of special interests, Big Insurance and Big Pharmaceutical -- who wanted to ensure that their clients would gain, and not lose, from the politically popular (but financially very costly) changes being made in coverage requirements.

They continued with a hare-brained scheme to subsidize the huge increase in costs by forcing everyone to purchase the new insurance, so that premiums paid by the young and healthy would offset the premiums for those with pre-existing conditions and other health disabilities. Enforcement would also be supported by the fact the insurance companies would have to cancel millions of existing policies in order to replace them with ones having all the fillips and curlicues required by Obamacare.

Example: a 61-year-old single male has his perfectly adequate health insurance policy canceled because Obamacare requires that he purchase a new policy which includes maternity coverage.

The law is so bad that Obama has already riddled it with exemptions for political cronies -- including Congress itself -- and now is talking about extending the deadline for the mandate to purchase coverage. (Never mind that he has no power to do that under the current law, and never mind that if he does so, the insurance companies will find themselves in an unsustainable position.)

What more proof is needed that Big Government should be kept away from health care? But the liberals in Congress who brought about this disaster aren't interested in proofs. They are interested only in wielding more power. They never admit to being the cause of failure. Instead, the more the failures mount, the more they will clamor for Government simply to take it all over, and eliminate the need for private insurance of any kind.

This is why the 2014 Congressional elections will be critical. Currently, the liberals have the White House and a majority of the Senate, but not the House. My hope is that, due to systemic and structural faults in Obamacare that will be irreparable before those elections, the liberals will be given their walking papers by an increasingly infuriated electorate. Or is Obama already ahead of us, and will H.L. Mencken once again prove him to be right?


  1. I am amazed at what the doctors themselves are saying about Obamacare. I knew some were not fans but after watching the video done my a very smart and reputable doctor from the doctors standpoint.....I am really scared... Its at

  2. Perhaps people like my brother will have to come out of retirement (like they did prior to the century date changing from 1999 to 2000, because newer computer programs depend on layer upon layer of computer languages, and indeed this generation of analysts & programmers (mostly in India now) can't read or write the old languages.
    Sure ''s like putting a square peg in a round hole.

  3. I come to AC, T19, ANGLICAN.TV, and SFiF for their expertise in religion, and things which touch on it such as law. Science and technology, not so much. Please don't bite off on trolls who pop up with definite answers which may be part of the issue, but by their very simplicity show a lack of comprehension of the full system, whatever they claim.

  4. Tregonsee, always glad to see you. I'm not sure whom you are accusing of being a troll, but Dan Hanson was definitely not treated as such at the MR site (ranked #1 on economics, and #1,385 on the Web as a whole). His comments (note plural) were elevated by that blog into a separate post, and no one else who commented really challenged them.

    The proof, as always, will be in the pudding. If the Administration truly fixes the site by December 1 as it now promises, then there must be a workaround to the problems Mr. Hanson identified. As it is, I thought readers of this blog deserved to get some insight into the magnitude of the problem -- as part of the leavening to the usual fare here, promised in the banner.

  5. Now, a new report surfaces that confirms what Dan Hanson first wrote.

    Folks, we are in serious end times here. Obamacare is the "law of the land", but no one can implement it as written. Pretty soon now, real life is going to overtake the Washington blatherers who assure us that "all is well, and all will be well."

  6. I have 20 years of IT experience, so I hope it would not be considered trollish to refer you to my article from last week: "The Trainwreck: Meets The Mythical Man-Month | Catholic Lane"

  7. Agreed. We are near the end. And we can always get logged in to the Great Physician.

  8. ELC, here is your link in clickable form -- thank you so much for providing it. It indeed illuminates the larger issues behind the (still large, but lesser) issues identified by Mr. Hanson. I predict the train wreck will continue well into next year.

  9. And a further update, from yet another experienced IT professional, which completely supports ELC's article linked above, with even more supporting detail.