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Jeffrey Zients Appointed To Fix Healthcare.gov

Soulskill posted about 10 months ago | from the fall-man-spotted dept.

Government 250

An anonymous reader writes with news that the Obama administration has appointed Jeffrey Zients to lead the effort to revamp Healthcare.gov after its trouble rollout earlier this month. Zients said, "By the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users." Obama created a position for Zients within the government in 2009, when he was made the OMB's Chief Performance Officer. The purpose of his position was to analyze and streamline the government's budget concerns. "Healthcare.gov covers people in the 36 states that declined to run their own health-insurance exchanges. About 700,000 applications have been begun nationwide, and half of them have come in through the website. The White House aims to have 7M uninsured Americans covered by the scheme by the end of March." Zients's appointment came after a contentious House Committee hearing about the healthcare website, in which many were blamed and few took responsibility. The government also said that contractor Quality Software Services Inc., a subsidiary of UnitedHealth group, would "oversee the entire operation" of Healthcare.gov. QSSI has already done work on the website, building the pipeline that transfers data between the insurance exchanges and the federal agencies.

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Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45240829)

"Honey, I'll be back by Christmas."

Odds are they're going to have to rebuild a significant the entire project from scratch.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45240883)

Assuming they succeed, that will be some pretty lipstick on the pig.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (2)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 10 months ago | (#45240929)

From the soaring triumph of the Apollo Project, to the sub-Hades goat-ropery Healthcare.gov in just half a century.
I, for one, am willing to confess that the U.S. won the Cold War, and is losing the sequel.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241325)

Well, those Germans died.

Apollo 1 (1)

tepples (727027) | about 10 months ago | (#45241327)

From the soaring triumph of the Apollo Project

I'm told enrolling on glitchy healthcare.gov is already easier than enrolling on insurers' own web sites was pre-PPACA. But at least healthcare.gov hasn't killed three astronauts [wikipedia.org] , has it?

Re:Apollo 1 (2)

Richy_T (111409) | about 10 months ago | (#45241661)

It's early days yet.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 10 months ago | (#45241411)

From the soaring triumph of the Apollo Project, to the sub-Hades goat-ropery Healthcare.gov in just half a century. I, for one, am willing to confess that the U.S. won the Cold War, and is losing the sequel.

Hey, we're still giving trickle down and job creators a chance.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 10 months ago | (#45241421)

The Apollo project cost 200 billion modern dollars. It's easy to accomplish a lot when you have the complete backing of every person in the government and a blank check.

Half of the people in the federal government are actively trying to sabotage the ACA.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (4, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | about 10 months ago | (#45241565)

Half of the people in the federal government are actively trying to sabotage the ACA.

Is that the half that wants to repeal it or the half that voted for it without knowing what was in the bill?

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (-1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 10 months ago | (#45241591)

It was debated for 8 months. Everyone knew what was in it, regardless of what Rush Limbaugh told you.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (4, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | about 10 months ago | (#45241759)

It was debated for 8 months.

What was debated and what was in the final draft are two different things.

Everyone knew what was in it, regardless of what Rush Limbaugh told you.

Lame attempt at character assignation, you've lost the debate. I'm neither a Republican nor a Limbaugh listener. I am however someone who was paying attention during the debate and drafting of the ACA, it was quite the bipartisan cluster**k.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (5, Informative)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 10 months ago | (#45242059)

The thing you have to keep in mind about the US Health System is that it's a series of kludges. Active Federal employees on the civilian side use a version of the Dutch system. There's a bunch of Federally owned hospitals (aka: the British system) for military retirees. To insure retirees in the 60s we stole Canada's system, even keeping the name "Medicare," and simply added the words "over 65" to the bill. Which means we have three entire countries worth of health regulations simply for retirees and Federal employees. Most people are insured by their employers , which is a fourth country worth of regulations. Roughly 10% of the country buys on the individual market, which is regulated at the state-level by 50 different regulators, for a fifth country. Medicaid for the poor is a federal/state mixture, which makes it sixth. The uninsured pay their bills a variety of ways, from charity care to sticker price. So we don't really have a health system, we have seven health payment systems.

If we were Canada or the UK, and we didn't have significant Checks and Balances in the policy-making arms of the government, we could do what any smart engineer would do in this situation and start a massive project to replace these seven systems with one system. But we aren't that country. Every American is convinced that his health insurance is great, therefore he will simply not believe your new system will be better for him, therefore he will bitch at his Senator if you try to (for example) let poor people formerly on Medicaid visit his VA Hospital. And getting 51 Senators (or 50 and the VP), and 218 House members to agree to do anything like that has proven to be damn near impossible. You can get them to agree to pour money into one section of the system or another, but they don't change people's health care very often.

So what Obama did was take the least popular one of those systems (the uninsured), and send half of them to Medicaid and half to the Individual Market in a manner reminiscent of the Dutch. He changed the individual market so it is more affordable. In other words the Affordable Care Act had to have the same amount of regulations in it as the entirety of Dutch law relating to Dutch health insurance. Since it kept five of the other six system it also had to include a lot of language/code to insure compatibility with those systems. For example a student whose dad (with custody) is on Medicare, Step-mom is eligible for insurance through her job and the VA, and Mom-mom (no custody) has a policy on the Exchange. Is the kid eligible for the Exchange policy, the VA policy, or does stepmom have to switch over to her job's insurance?

It possible that in China the technocrats who run the Communist party could all have learned a proposal this complicated in a year or so's debate without majorly neglecting their other duties. But we aren't China. We aren't led by nameless suits whose entire role is to exude policy confidence. We are led by us. And it turns out we aren't smart enough to learn a half-dozen slightly different versions of the Dutch system in eight months. Frankly I don't blame us.

What we are smart enough to do is learn the outlines of the ideas, to a surprisingly high level of detail in many areas; and then muddle through the rest the best we can. This is what happens in a democracy with Checks and Balances, entrenched interests (ie: people calling their Congressman in panic when their insurance changes), and an independent legislature whenever anyone tries to fix any major problem.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (4, Informative)

satch89450 (186046) | about 10 months ago | (#45241767)

"Everyone knew what was in it, regardless of what Rush Limbaugh told you." Strange, what I recall during the run-up to the passing of this piece of art was the Democratic Speaker of the House saying "We need to pass it to find out what's in it." And we are finding out.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (1, Informative)

guises (2423402) | about 10 months ago | (#45242215)

That little clip that they belabored on Fox News was: "But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it," (my emphasis)

Of course, that's from Fox News so not only is it out of context, it's not even the full sentence: “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.”

Politifact [politifact.com] has a little write-up on it, if you'd care to educate yourself.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (1)

fizzer06 (1500649) | about 10 months ago | (#45241799)

"Everyone knew what was in it"

Prove it.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 10 months ago | (#45241953)

It was debated for 8 months.

That gave the politicians extra time for bri..er..um..donations

Everyone knew what was in it,

Sweeping generalization that cannot be proved

regardless of what Rush Limbaugh told you.

As is he is the conscienciousnes of America. He is just another noise on the media stream with too much money, drugs, hot air, etc etc.

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241613)

those are one and the same.

the other half is the one that voted for it knowing full well what it was and that it would benefit our society.

those that didn't think the civil war was about "states rights"

Re:Somewhere 10,000 contractors get a call (1)

Eskarel (565631) | about 10 months ago | (#45242243)

People keep saying this, but they really don't understand the scope of what healthcare.gov actually is.

This system integrates every health insurance company, in every state. Each health care company will be using a different, internally developed proprietary system, potentially more than one, each state will have different laws which affect the manner in which healthcare can be offered. It then attempts to present all that data to the consumer in a meaningful and comparable way. The fact that it works at all is a miracle.

yes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45240859)

#1

A management wonk all the way (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45240891)

Just reading his bio on Wiki, and he sounds like a management wonk who never wrote a line of code. A good management wonk, but still a wonk. There really doesn't seem to be a whole lot that ties him to the kind of companies that roll out web sites. So. The success hinges on his ability to pick the right underlings, which he may actually be very good at. We all get to participate in this experiment with our tax dollars and personal finances. Yay. (that's sarcasm).

Re:A management wonk all the way (1)

craigminah (1885846) | about 10 months ago | (#45240939)

So he was hired to "analyze and streamline the government's budget concerns" yet the government hasn't developed an actual budget for quite some time...keep up the good work.

Re:A management wonk all the way (1)

justaguy516 (712036) | about 10 months ago | (#45241835)

So the first thing he is going to do is to offshore it?

"Plan" vs "Scheme" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45240927)

It is implied that the writing is only conveying factual information. In reality, it is also delivering a subjective opinion about the plan by calling it a scheme. Similar to calling someone's intentions a ploy.

Re:"Plan" vs "Scheme" (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 10 months ago | (#45241017)

Not really. Or not really in the sense of it being bad or good or anything. People hatch schemes all the time that are just plans with big pictures in mind. The problem we face is that schemes we hear about are usually the ones that either go wrong or do wrong to somebody. But there are a lot that do good or don't do anything at all.

In other words, I think you are reading into it too much.

And as a disclaimer, I'm positively against Obamacare on lots of grounds outside but including the hogwash presented as the federal exchange website.

Calling it a thcheme (2)

tepples (727027) | about 10 months ago | (#45241349)

In reality, it is also delivering a subjective opinion about the plan by calling it a scheme.

Unless Zients's plan is to sprinkle parentheses liberally on the project [wikipedia.org] .

End of November (4, Informative)

bondsbw (888959) | about 10 months ago | (#45240935)

Sounds like a lot of mythical man-months to me.

Re:End of November (4, Funny)

ark1 (873448) | about 10 months ago | (#45241161)

He didn't mentioned which year.

Re:End of November (3, Interesting)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 10 months ago | (#45241273)

Not really. It sounds like a position that should have been filled from the beginning is just now getting filled.

Until now, the Medicare agency, led by Marilyn B. Tavenner, was the quarterback, or system integrator, trying to coordinate the work of dozens of contractors.

I'm sure Medicare has things to do other than deal with this mess that wasn't even being written until spring. How they got to that point is a discussion we already had, I'm just pointing out that Medicare is probably not the best choice for driving the technology/solution angle here.

The mythical man month does not directly cover the case of being under-manned until a month after release, then bringing staffing up to where it should be. And certainly if that is the entirety of your contribution, I have to assume you mean the most recognized portions of the concept.

More on point is the difficulty of debugging a live system and making changes that don't cascade to cause more problems, which I don't see happening by the end of November. But an unrealistic schedule, again, is not the mythical man month.

Re:End of November (1)

Brian_Ellenberger (308720) | about 10 months ago | (#45241889)

Not really. It sounds like a position that should have been filled from the beginning is just now getting filled.

The mythical man month does not directly cover the case of being under-manned until a month after release, then bringing staffing up to where it should be. And certainly if that is the entirety of your contribution, I have to assume you mean the most recognized portions of the concept.

Under-manned because they hired one more person? I haven't seen any evidence they were understaffed or under-manned. And someone I'm skeptical that a CEO guy with a BS in Political Science and no Software Engineering background is the key to turning this around.

Re:End of November (1)

bondsbw (888959) | about 10 months ago | (#45242011)

The mythical man month does not directly cover the case of being under-manned until a month after release, then bringing staffing up to where it should be.

The primary message of The Mythical Man-Month is that adding people to a late project, counterintuitively, makes it finish later. I'd say that putting out an unfinished project, because you were "under-manned until a month after release", qualifies as late.

But an unrealistic schedule, again, is not the mythical man month.

I'm sorry, that's just wrong. The schedule has everything to do with it. The term "late" establishes that the schedule was unrealistic given all other conditions.

Now I would agree that those other conditions did not work in favor of meeting the schedule. I think this is the point Brooks was trying to make; you can't just tweak staffing levels to improve timeframes, but you must consider ideas like reducing scope of work, creating more effective communication channels between vendors, etc.

Re:End of November (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 10 months ago | (#45241761)

End of November ... Sounds like a lot of mythical man-months to me.

They've got an out. The article doesn't say what year that November is in.

Surprising (1)

Mitreya (579078) | about 10 months ago | (#45240947)

I am surprised that anyone got approved for such a post

I take it this appointment did not require a joint Democrat/Republican confirmation?

Re:Surprising (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 10 months ago | (#45242017)

I am surprised that anyone got approved for such a post

I take it this appointment did not require a joint Democrat/Republican confirmation?

As surprised as when Obamanation was elected?
It required a Big Pharma/Healthcare Insurance sector approval with a CONgressional rubber stamp.

Re:Surprising (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 10 months ago | (#45242097)

He was confirmed as Chief Performance Officer back in 2009. All Obama has to do to give him this gig is re-write the job description.

And he doesn't have to re-write much because the CPO is supposed look at government operations (ie: this clusterfuck) and figure out how to make work better. Fixing specific projects probably wasn't what the Senate had in mind when it confirmed him, but they probably won't complain. The GOP will figure he won't do it, and they'll want Obama to have some more rope to hang himself, the Dems will think he will pull it off and will save them all.

Purists who do complain don't understand the point of the system of confirmation. The point isn't that everyone always gets a vote. the point is that the Executive can't ignore the will Congress. In this case that will will be expressed by Congress not complaining.

Is this unusual? (1)

ISoldat53 (977164) | about 10 months ago | (#45240973)

Is this unusual for the insurance industry? I deal with a large health insurance company whose web site sucks. It is impossible to find any useful information on it. There is no logical way to search for a doctor. None of the default choices apply to the client type( How many geriatric patents need to see a prenatal specialist?) There is NO way to contact anyone and their customer service isn't. I've been fighting this site for four years and they still haven't gotten it fixed.

Re:Is this unusual? (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 10 months ago | (#45242117)

Don't know about the industry, but it is unusual for Exchanges. Massachusetts has run fine for years. Cali and New York State went live on Oct. 1 with relatively few problems.

In Obama's defense he was not actually supposed to make any Exchanges. The people who were supposed to do that were the states, but a bunch of states bailed and the backup plan became the plan. Which meant a $1 Billion budget line that was basically an Oh Fuck option became the Exchange for something like a third of the country, and Obama had less time to plan then the states did.

It's NOT going to happen (4, Insightful)

mattb47 (85083) | about 10 months ago | (#45241003)

There are more lines of code in Healthcare.gov (500m!) than Google Chrome, the Linux kernel, XP, Facebook, Mac OS, and the Debian 5 packages combined:

http://www.alexmarchant.com/blog/2013/10/22/healthcare-dot-gov-lines-of-code-comparison.html [alexmarchant.com]

Windows 8 supposed has 80m lines of code:
http://money.cnn.com/2013/10/23/technology/obamacare-website-fix/ [cnn.com]

It would take a miracle of computing programming and program management that no governmental program has ever accomplished to get this epic cluster f*ck fixed in 2-3 months.

If they actually want it to work, it should be taken out behind the shed, shot in the head, hung, drawn, quartered, burned, and the ashes scattered to the four winds. And then everyone starts over. And then take 2 years (minimum) to recode it again with an almost entirely new team. But that's not going to happen. They're going to try and band-aid it, and it won't work.

So things are going to get interesting. It's unfixable in a politically acceptable way for the Democrats and the Obama administration.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241071)

Of course it won't happen. It's already an actual failure, and now people perceive it will always be a failure. They won't get the signups they anticipated, insurers will pull out of the exchanges, and it will crater. Now, people also know that there is no possible way for the government to collect any fines unless you are expecting a refund. They either have to take it out of the refund, or force your employer to withhold it. Good luck.

This was always going to be a failure. The hubris that designed and implemented such a disaster of a law could only come from an Obama administration that is so arrogant and self-righteous they don't listen to anyone except yes-men and lackeys. Just read the comments from the insane head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Even Anderson Cooper thinks she's not part of this universe.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 10 months ago | (#45241171)

The hubris that designed and implemented such a disaster of a law could only come from an Obama administration that is so arrogant and self-righteous they don't listen to anyone except yes-men and lackeys. Just read the comments from the insane head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Even Anderson Cooper thinks she's not part of this universe.

I'm not sure if this gets filed under rhetoric, hubris, or hyperbole -- or all three. The Obama administration hasn't cornered the market on arrogance and self-righteousness; that's part of what makes politics politics, and has been going on since before the Roman Empire. Obama's administration isn't unique; he just focuses on fewer "big things" and does it without a safety net (which is ironic, considering this is about insurance).

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

xevioso (598654) | about 10 months ago | (#45241351)

And what, pray tell, will you do when it is fixed in 5 weeks as promised? When people, by and large, are signing up with few errors, by the end of November, what will you do?

Re:It's NOT going to happen (2)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | about 10 months ago | (#45241463)

I suppose at that point, I'll be busy enjoying having a harem of all the most famous starlets of the past 200 years, and taking occasional trips in my time machine for fun around the early Babylonian period.

What will you do if God comes down from heaven in 5 weeks, and personally offers you a latte?

Re:It's NOT going to happen (2)

onkelonkel (560274) | about 10 months ago | (#45241745)

Tell Him - No Foam please.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241083)

Hacker News has an interesting discussion about the 500m LoC claim https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6583327

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

xevioso (598654) | about 10 months ago | (#45241379)

So, lets be honest about this. This is a web application. It is not software. It's a bunch of forms on a bunch of web pages that connect to a bunch of databases. And a whole shitload of that can be markup. FAQs, Privacy Policies, tons and tons of TEXT. Which can be called "code" if you stick a tag around it.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241137)

thats sounds crazy... oh yeah becasue it is crazy.
the source is some unofficial statistic from an unnamed New York Times source

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241153)

It's unfixable in a politically acceptable way for the Democrats and the Obama administration.

You know, Ann Coulter has told us that this was intentional. [townhall.com] That the Democrats' plan is to make it unworkable and then replace the whole thing with Single Payer as a workable solution.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Entropius (188861) | about 10 months ago | (#45241503)

Wouldn't people be somewhat less likely to do that, given that giving the keys to the car to the kid who just wrecked his tricycle seems like a bad idea?

Re:It's NOT going to happen (2)

cold fjord (826450) | about 10 months ago | (#45241775)

It's hard to say. It is pretty typical for the government to create a problem, and then someone proposes a big new government program to fix the problem that wouldn't exist if not for the government. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 10 months ago | (#45241819)

Obama told us it was intentional in his stump speeches before he even became president. Something about wanting single-payer, but you can't get there overnight. You have to do it in stages.

One of those stages is the collapse of the free-market insurance industry. It is a necessary condition to single payer that there can't be any other payers.

One thing I don't understand is why they didn't make the individual mandate severable. They could have done a lot of damage if that specific part of the law was struck down, but the requirement that insurers accept pre-existing conditions left alone.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 10 months ago | (#45241185)

They're going to try and band-aid it, and it won't work.

But the boss has already promised his customers that it would be ready by the end of November.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (5, Insightful)

fche (36607) | about 10 months ago | (#45241255)

They aren't customers if they're forced to buy.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0, Flamebait)

xevioso (598654) | about 10 months ago | (#45241459)

Yes they are. And if you already have health insurance you aren't forced to buy.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241543)

Yes they are. And if you already have health insurance you aren't forced to buy.

A "customer" forced to buy a product is like a "consenting party" forced to have sex with his or her rapist.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Velex (120469) | about 10 months ago | (#45241907)

Yeah I know man! I hate paying for roads I never use! Communist bastards!

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Velex (120469) | about 10 months ago | (#45241925)

(That being said, Romney^H^H^H^H^H^HObamacare is pretty much crap. We just need single payer already.)

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 10 months ago | (#45241903)

And if you already have health insurance you aren't forced to buy.

If you already have health insurance, you probably don't care when, or even if, the site becomes functional.

Except perhaps in a "hey, look at the train wreck" sort of way....

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241981)

more than HALF of the country does not have health insurance. And they are forced to buy now.

I am forced to buy now. And what do i get. Not fucking much. If anything major happens to me my life is still fucked beyond belief. Just like before.
Unlike before tho i am out a few hundred a month and gain pretty much nothing good.

And if i refuse to buy. They take the money from me. And i get even less.

The entire system is bullshit unless you are already a. well off. or b. dirt fucking poor.

Everyone in the middle is fucked and they are pretty much stealing money from them and handing it to the insurance companies.

Looks like all that money that got donated to the campaigns finally paid off for the insurance companies. Big. It's a good scam. wish i was on the other side of it.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Goetterdaemmerung (140496) | about 10 months ago | (#45241847)

Right. His customers aren't the people seeking insurance. His customer is the Obama administration.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241197)

The 500M lines of code is attributed to "one specialist".

Strange, but I would rather hear the number from the people who run the site, or at least someone who would use their name.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (4, Insightful)

cmdr_tofu (826352) | about 10 months ago | (#45241399)

There are more lines of code in Healthcare.gov (500m!) than Google Chrome, the Linux kernel, XP, Facebook, Mac OS, and the Debian 5 packages combined:

http://www.alexmarchant.com/blog/2013/10/22/healthcare-dot-gov-lines-of-code-comparison.html [alexmarchant.com]

Alexmarchant cites a NYT article [nytimes.com] in which the author wrote:
"According to one specialist, the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code. By comparison, a large bank’s computer system is typically about one-fifth that size."

I, for one, find this claim difficult to believe, especially when the actual source cited is "one specialist" who remains nameless.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 10 months ago | (#45241801)

how many lines of code did the Jurassic Park UNIX system have?

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45242081)

Only 1: it was a really long line, though, and the intern who wrote it was the first person off the island.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45242241)

Maybe they counted the lines of machine code?
They only had a few months to do the actual coding. What kind of super-programmers churn out 500 million lines in that time?

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Entropius (188861) | about 10 months ago | (#45241487)

What I'm wondering: how did they spend 600 million bucks on this?

I bought health insurance from an "exchange" a few years ago; I was between jobs and wanted gap coverage. I went to a website, ran a search, picked a plan, and enrolled -- it was pretty simple. The website didn't look that complicated, and I'm sure it didn't cost $600M or even $60M (and it worked). Now, maybe the government wants to do something a little more complicated, but $600M is roughly 10,000 developers' salaries for a year. What were they all doing?

Cheap, Fast, Good, you can get two. (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 10 months ago | (#45241833)

But.. maybe you don't actually get to pick which two, and they tried anyway.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 10 months ago | (#45242205)

$600 million is not a lot in the world of government contracting. There are several models of Jet in the Air Force that cost that much. Moreover this was a really big job. They need enough servers to complete 15 million orders, they need to talk to the IRS (mostly for income data), several other agencies, fairly sophisticated GIS systems (many plans aren't available in all counties), and insurance company computer systems.

Your little exchange probably had to handle talking to the insurer's computers, but it didn't care what percent of poverty you were, it may not have cared which County you lived in, and it probably didn't care as much about security. It's a small target, at least compared to a Federal Exchange. Hack it and you screw a few thousand. OTOH if you hack the Federal Exchange you could theoretically steal 15 million people's everything. SSN, name, address, IRS info, every fucking thing.

What I personally don't get is why they didn't just steal a bunch of servers from MA. I get maybe they wouldn't have scaled up, but the MA system worked at a scale of 5 million residents so you just set up 20 or 30 of those, and put up a splash page that tells people which one of those to go to, and you're golden.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

Jeremi (14640) | about 10 months ago | (#45241733)

There are more lines of code in Healthcare.gov (500m!) than Google Chrome, the Linux kernel, XP, Facebook, Mac OS, and the Debian 5 packages combined:

You're looking at the wrong metric, because not all of those 500m lines of code have to work perfectly before the site is minimally usable.

The correct metric to look at would be the number of lines of code that are (a) currently broken, (b) actually executed in the common cases, and (c) cause painful or fatal consequences to the process. Those are the parts that actually need to be fixed sooner than later, and it's likely that that number is significantly smaller than 500m.

I've worked on a number of projects that seemed hopelessly buggy; the only thing to do is keep on diagnosing and fixing the next bug, and sometimes you find out that that one bug was causing a massive cascade of errors, and now that it's fixed, a whole swath of other symptoms that you thought were unrelated go away with it. The magnitude of the symptoms is often uncorrelated to the difficulty of fixing the bug.

That might not be the case, here, but then again it might.

To sum up, it doesn't need to be perfect in the next few weeks, just good enough. Once the flaws are reduced to a level where people can reasonably put up with them, there will be more time to polish out the rest.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

HiThere (15173) | about 10 months ago | (#45242111)

Well, if it's true, then one of the problems with the site is that there's too many lines of code. (Even if, as someone suggested, you are counting every line between two html tags as a line of code.)

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 10 months ago | (#45242239)

More importantly this is not inventing the Apollo Program. California's Exchange is serving 10% of the country's population fine. Build six of those and Obama's golden.

I doubt it can actually be done in 5 weeks, but in theory they should have the hardware to do it (that $600 million went somewhere), so installing the right software could do the trick.

Re:It's NOT going to happen (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 10 months ago | (#45242143)

You do realize that California and Massachusetts have Exchanges that work?

Which means that an awful lot of this code can be brought in from those states.

Good choice for the job (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241005)

His reputation precedes him. Tough, accept no excuses analyst. Site will be bulletproof when his team gets done.

The irony will be that the red states -- with their refusal to provide their own exchanges-- will end up having one of the best websites out of all the rest to use when shopping for affordable healthcare insurance. And they'll only have the red state politicians to thank (in addition to Zients' and his team). Not exactly cutting their constituents' noses off to spite their faces...

Re:Good choice for the job (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241135)

Wow.. it looks like Obama has found slashdot!

Re:Good choice for the job (1)

quantaman (517394) | about 10 months ago | (#45241269)

But he's not analyzing something, he's trying to fix a broken incomplete project. He might be brilliant in his field but that doesn't mean he's an expert project manager or knows enough about software for his "end of November" prediction to have any credibility.

Of course that's not really a bad thing, if your priority is simply to get it up and running the current team who bungled it is still the best bet. Zients might just be shuffling deckchairs in an effort to satisfy critics while they try to fix the code.

What you're missing... (4, Funny)

Bill Dimm (463823) | about 10 months ago | (#45241107)

Zients said, "By the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."

Yeah,November of which year?

Re:What you're missing... (2)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about 10 months ago | (#45241343)

November of last year. Jeffry and Captain Kirk use the slingshot effect to send the Enterprise back in time to rework the website with an M-5 multitronic unit.

Re:What you're missing... (2)

trout007 (975317) | about 10 months ago | (#45241537)

I used that in a meeting once when management asked how we can get the project finished by the arbitrary deadline. I said we could build a time machine. The great part is that it doesn't matter when we finish that project because all of the other ones will be on time.

That reminds me of a design review I was in. The "safety" engineer asked me what the backup was if a primary structure failed. I said it's a primary structure it's designed not to fail. They responded "What if it magically fails?". I said "We roll for damages".

I don't get invited to meetings often.

Re:What you're missing... (1)

Fierlo (842860) | about 10 months ago | (#45242173)

Lots of things are designed not to fail. Arguably, everything is designed to not fail, however, everything that is designed well is designed to fail gracefully or in a predictable fashion (or at least, not catastrophically).

The reason you don't get invited to meetings is that you demonstrated arrogance (or misplaced humour) when asked a legitimate question.

Not that being in meetings is particularly pleasant, but there is sometimes value in being present.

Re:What you're missing... (1)

Delarth799 (1839672) | about 10 months ago | (#45241385)

I believe you misspelled century

This will only fix the shiny object (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241149)

At some point they will have spent enough time and money to fix the nice shiny bauble of a web site..... and they will trumpet their success...... but this will be used to distract from the fact that they will NOT undo:

1. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have already been thrown off their insurance (so much for "If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance, PERIOD." - Barack Obama).

2. The fact that millions will have lost their doctors both by losing their insurance and also by having the new plans exercise very tight controls on their "providers" (so much for "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, PERIOD" - Barack Obama).

3. Nor will it fix the most-basic contradictions of the scheme which always meant it was unworkable: [1] it's "insurance" but you can wait to buy-in until you have had the failure it "insures" against (the pre-existing condition clause; it's like only placing your bet in Vegas after you win) and [2] it requires all the young-and-healthy to buy policies at high prices with high deductibles and high co-pays (in other words, policies they will get nothing from) in order to function but it lets all the young people stay on their parents' policies until age 26 in order to not piss-off Obama's young supporters.

The lesson here: No amount of IT (no matter the quality or expense) can make-up-for, or sufficiently hide from intelligent users, serious flaws in the underlying policies, business principles, economics, claims of the sales force and marketing dept, etc. But a bad launch of a shiny bauble can have a serious impact on reputation and imply incompetence. This lesson applies to business, non-profits, and governments alike.

Oh, and there's another lesson here for the young urban hipsters: The internet is not universally available, and many people do not even have/care to use it. My personal favorite anecdote thus far was from the farmer being helped to sign-up who responded to the navigator with "what's an e-mail address?" In the real world where systems are constructed to serve everyone equally, there must be good non-internet options that work - people who do not get this need to unplug for a month and get out into the real-world where this big bright thing called "the sun" rises and sets every day, something called "the wind" blows, people swim, fish, ski, fix fences, ride horses/motorcycles/etc, turn wrenches, use saws, dig holes, play with their kids, milk the cows, etc.

It may all be for naught (4, Interesting)

Tiger4 (840741) | about 10 months ago | (#45241179)

Good luck to Zients. He's a good guy and I don't doubt the code can be repaired with enough effort. A lot of effort, maybe, but it can be done.

But it might not matter. The Los Angeles Times [latimes.com] had a story about how the real code running the show (the legalese in the ACA law) may have a fatal flaw in it. The federal government may not be able to grant subsidies to low income people in the states that did not set up their own exchanges. The law specifically says the states must do it in order for the money to flow. So 36 of the 50 may not be able to get the money. But they are still subject to the penalty for not signing up. This means the people least able to afford insurance get hammered. And since they are treated differently than people in the other 14 states that do have exchanges, you can bet an Equal Protection lawsuit will be quick in coming.

Federal judge is due to issue the initial ruling soon.

Reversing REDMAP (1)

tepples (727027) | about 10 months ago | (#45241579)

I don't doubt the code can be repaired with enough effort. [But] the real code running the show (the legalese in the ACA law) may have a fatal flaw in it

As you recognized, law too is code [slashdot.org] . Get enough Democrats into state legislatures and they might have a chance of reversing REDMAP [huffingtonpost.com] , the RSLC's organized redistricting effort that produced the inkblot-shaped districts [businessinsider.com] that turned a Democratic popular vote into a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which should make it possible to patch this bug in PPACA.

Re:It may all be for naught (2)

Brian_Ellenberger (308720) | about 10 months ago | (#45241795)

And since they are treated differently than people in the other 14 states that do have exchanges, you can bet an Equal Protection lawsuit will be quick in coming.

Here is the Equal Protection Clause:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Note that the boundary of the clause is the State. Different states have different laws all the time. Massachusetts has had statewide healthcare for a long time, and Vermont passed a single-payer healthcare. Oregon has vote-by-mail. Minnesota abolished the death penalty while it remains in the majority of states. Some states have legalized marijuana, while in Pennsylvania you can only buy wine and spirits from state owned shops. Taxes are different, environmental laws are different, etc.

Statehood wouldn't mean much if states weren't allowed to have different laws.

yeah, fix it with another 600M (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241271)

Maybe can cut half.

Re:yeah, fix it with another 600M (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241505)

That flushing sound we hear... more tax dollars heading for the black-hole of government waste. Can't imagine what the fuck they did for the first 600M, what if ... they used that to help offset existing healh care costs.. I know... too simple of an idea.

Sigh, more Obama bashing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241309)

By talking about these few perceived problems, you people are hurting the only person that is trying to help us. Please stop talking about this. The racist right wingers don't want minorities to have health care so they'll do anything to stop it. The most effective tool they have right now is talking about this.

It wil be easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241329)

Why? The errors are pretty obvious. This was, perhaps not sabotage, but work done by people who have agendas that are counter to the success of the project.

That's why Zients said one Month, the errors are all known ways to make a database integration system fail.

If the few programmers with agendas are as dumb as I know they are though? They will be caught pretty easily by the end of November.

Dictator for a day (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241355)

Proclamation: All prior Federal health programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and stateside military programs are hereby repealed and the employees of said programs laid off. All insurance companies must reimburse for care provided by any licensed healthcare practitioner. No bulk discounts may be negotiated. All licensed healthcare practitioners must post price lists on the Internet. All anti-trust exemptions are revoked. If you can prove that you are in debt for more than 10% of last year's pre-tax income for health services, the government will reimburse the difference. Just submit your receipts along with your taxes, and we'll cut you a check. Note that this government reimbursement really makes private insurance useless. Good riddance. In order to pay for this, we'll tax all trades on Wall Street at one penny per order, whether it executes or not. Additionally, capital gains on stocks will be taxed as ordinary income regardless of term. That otta do 'er.

As CGI runs for cover (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241445)

You can bet that as the performance bonds get eaten up CGI will be heading back to Quebec to lick their wounds. I doubt the company will be getting anymore work from .gov or .gc.ca for that matter, that is work that the public actually hears about. You can bet that when they get any new contracts it will be under one of their subs and not use the company name.

Sounds like the primary planning for the data base access was done by a bunch of amateurs. I just wonder how much of piece of Swiss cheese the query structure is and how long before somebody hacks in and completely screws a vulnerable portion of it. If the primary .gov db is Oracle based then chances are it will survive assaults but if it is a mix and match POS combination with MS SQL links then most likely someone will find some holes and mess around with portions of the monster.

The 500 million loc story seems a little far fetched for the primary db and interface. But if they are including all the old corporate secondary code for the insurance companies that run the plan parts God only knows what SQL they are using and the task of fixing the beast might be more expensive than completely doing a re-write of all the secondary code that they needed to access with the primary servers.

Either way the system sounds like a coding fiasco fluster cuck that only a spin doctor from a consulting contract firm like CGI could have imagined would actually work.

Another big triumph for outsourcing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241533)

Looks like they didn't check the proposals with experts yet again, just watched shiny powerpoint presentations in the bidding process and went on price. 300,000 users is not actually very many for a web based system, surely they did load testing and functional testing on a completely equivalent test environment as part of the process?

Oh, maybe they didn't because the cost of doing so might have made the bid "uncompetetive" ? Seen it happen myself numerous times, seems a lot of people need to learn the expensive way still, that cutting costs this much enormously increases risk. And have they ever heard of "best practices"? Should make another chapter for the sadly overdue "why big projects fail" book that one day it will be a sackable offence not to know inside out and back to front (because you've read it so many times front to back of course).

Open source the project (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241549)

For real.

Obama Blinded Me With Zients (1)

theodp (442580) | about 10 months ago | (#45241617)

There, that had to be said. Now, just redirect those healthcare.gov links to the insurance companies, as should have been done in the first place:-)

Re:Obama Blinded Me With Zients (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45241649)

Stop blaming Obama. He didn't have anything to do with this fiasco that was underfunded by the Republicans that want to make damn sure that minorities continue to not have access to healthcare. This entire thing is caused by racism.

Re:Obama Blinded Me With Zients (1)

Lucky_Pierre (175635) | about 10 months ago | (#45241905)

This entire thing is caused by racism.

Hehehehehe!

Nightmare (4, Informative)

Dan East (318230) | about 10 months ago | (#45241663)

After doing software development in the healthcare field for over a decade, I finally made the wise decision to never work in that industry again. Government is even worse, because the rules the software have to follow change on the whim of elections and the rug is constantly being pulled out from under you. Now this mess? Well it's healthcare taken to the bureaucratic power (h^b). Sounds like a good way to shave 10 years off your life in stress.

"healthcare.gov will work smoothly" (1)

Lucky_Pierre (175635) | about 10 months ago | (#45241899)

And pigs will fly.

Raft of failures (-1, Flamebait)

RoccamOccam (953524) | about 10 months ago | (#45241927)

Michelle Malkin has an interesting take on this same story:

'Why does the White House need a private-sector "tech surge" to repair its wretched Obamacare website failures? Weren't all of the president's myriad IT czars and their underlings supposed to ensure that taxpayers got the most effective, innovative, cutting-edge and secure technology for their money? '

http://townhall.com/columnists/michellemalkin/2013/10/25/what-happened-to-all-of-obamas-technology-czars-n1731775/page/full [townhall.com]

Re:Raft of failures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45242177)

Yeah, Malkin, I'm sure she's unbiased. And the "wretched Obamacare website failures" were due to a wonderful private sector company. The feds didn't design the thing in house. Maybe they should have?

Re:Raft of failures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45242201)

Actually hiring government employees right out of college and giving them pensions and benefits would be 'socialism'. And Reagan said that was bad...

Even nationalizing the health insurance companies into one big government run agency like other countries would be socialism, but it seems to work in every other country.

7 million medicare enrollees (2)

amightywind (691887) | about 10 months ago | (#45242213)

The White House aims to have 7M uninsured Americans covered by the scheme by the end of March.

They will. That's 7 million Medicare enrollees. Surprised? Was this worth messing up the health insurance of the 85% of people who are covered? May Obama burn in hell./cP

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