Owning a web development business, combined with my interest in politics, has really been hard on me since the launch of healthcare.gov. As much as I want to see the ACA succeed, the professional in me is seeing some problems with the system that was to be expected from the government.
First a personal tale. About 2am Sunday morning, I decided to try again to sign up for my healthcare. I went through about 95% of the process, then got the "the system is down for maintenance" message. I doubt this was a scheduled outage, and if it was, why not give warning before starting the process? It takes me five seconds to put a warning up on every page of Crooks and Liars when the site will go down for maintenance. If it wasn't a scheduled maintenance, I highly doubt the "high traffic loads" excuse can be applied, given the late/early hours I decided to try.
Well, Sunday morning I got an email from healthcare.gov, telling me I needed to complete the signup process. I went back in and tried to complete it, then got a new message. "We cannot process your request at this time". With all that, I decided to wait a couple more weeks before trying again.
So why is this system such a complete and utter failure? There have been tons of articles speculating what went wrong, but being in this industry they just didn't seem to add up. That's until now. Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation, we now see that the major problem is one we all know too well. That would be cronyism, and cronyism is never as prevalent as it is in federal procurement.
According to the report, there were a total of 47 contractors that worked on the project. Now let me be clear that something like this isn't uncommon. Healthcare.gov is more than just a website.
As matter of fact, the website is one of the smaller parts. Behind the scenes you've got this new hub that the website connects to to verify income, residency and a bunch of other things. That "hub" connects to numerous government agencies to determine this. That means the hub had to be developed, then integrated with systems in DHS, Social Security, the IRS and a bunch of other agencies. Once all that was done, the website's back-end got developed to communicate with the hub and get this data. There's a lot of moving parts here and if one goes down, everything goes down.
But when you look at these 47 contractors, you see a lot of big names. Look even closer and you see all but one has a long history of government work. We're talking about companies such as IBM, Verizon, Northrop Grumman and even Booz Allen Hamilton. A lot of these companies thrive on government contracts, so they know how the game works.
I'm not here bashing Obama or the law. What I am bashing is a system of cronyism that has been in place for as long as we can remember. It's a system where the people who donate and lobby the hardest get the contracts, regardless of their ability to carry it out. Democrats are guilty of this, as well as Republicans. It's the mentality that "the private sector can do it better" that has led us here.
Republicans will point to this as being the fault of Democrats and the White House, and complain of how much money it has cost us. There is, however, an easy counter to this. So far, about $400 million has been spent developing a system to give affordable healthcare to every citizen of this country. Compare that to a program the Republicans love, the F-35 fighter jet. This program is estimated to cost taxpayers over $400 billion (billion, not million) when all is said and done, making it the most expensive government project in history. Not only that, but the costs of this program have increased by over 70% since it was born in 2001.
A couple of years ago, I did a post on one failure of the F-35, which was the current engine design. Defense secretaries from the current and previous administrations wanted it scrapped, yet Congress refused to. One person I mentioned in that post was none other than John Boehner. At a time when Republicans were digging in about government costs and we had another debate going on over the debt ceiling, John Boehner successfully pushed for an additional $450 million to be spent on one aspect of the failed engine. That's how much it cost to build the health care exchanges, and why they are facing problems they faced nowhere near the problems as this engine. Still, Boehner wanted to help his cronies out in his district.
One thing we heard about during the healthcare debates was welfare. The right views the ACA as another form of welfare. But what about the corporate welfare? The F35 costs 1,000 times more than the healthcare exchanges and is a perfect example of welfare to big business, yet some of the biggest opponents of the ACA are the very ones that push for more spending on the F35.
I hope everyone keeps this in mind over the next few days, as we approach the debt ceiling. I'm sure Boehner and the GOP will talk more and more about the costs and failures of the ACA. Just think of what their response would be if someone could ask them about the costs and failures of the F-35 program.