Monday, October 28, 2013


Jonathan Bernstein has a Link up at Salon called “GOP’s Obamacare conspiracy: Sabotage from the inside”. In it, he argues there are “eight ways that Republicans attempted, perhaps successfully, to undermine the ACA”. Neoneocon refers to this as “just-sad”. She’s right but there are a lot of people out there who are going to love his article.

I’ve begun to see those on the Left as firing and falling back in the ObamaCare rollout fiasco. First, they argued there weren’t really problems. When that position was overrun, they argued that it was all volume, just proof of how incredibly much Americans wanted ObamaCare. When they were forced out of that position, they fell back on the claim that the problems were frustrating rather than disastrous; I call this the “when Amazon is glitchy, it’s annoying but it’s not a big deal” stance. Being overrun by counterfactuals there, they argued that no one - no one - was more angry, more frustrated than President Obama and Secretary Sebelius. Now that position has proved to be too enraging or too ridiculous - or both - to hold back attacks, so they are rallying to their usual bunker: it’s all the Republicans’ fault.*

Bernstein’s article provides a great revetment for this last position. His claims about what Republicans did to cause this mess are incredibly vague but therein lies their value for all those who will never, ever concede that ObamaCare doesn’t seem to be working out too well. His arguments will be believed because people want, desperately, to believe them and, since the arguments are not themselves facts, they can’t be refuted by opposing facts. These arguments allow those on the Left to avoid the cognitive dissonance that would come from having to admit Obama’s one big accomplishment is a mess.

All that said, I am going to push back on one of his arguments:

Passing on state-run exchanges: With over half the states refusing to set up their own marketplaces, the job of the federal government was much larger than originally envisioned.

In what way? The legislation clearly anticipated setting up a Federally run exchange so the creation of was “originally envisioned”. I am left to assume that Bernstein thinks making the Federal exchange website handle twenty-seven States is a significantly bigger job than making it handle one State. And it may be: if you’re just handling one State you can hard-code everything. Real programmers will cringe (and probably throw up) and you’ll be in big trouble when stuff like premiums and benefits change next year, but, hey, deadlines are deadlines. However, handling twenty-seven States shouldn’t really be a bigger job than handling two States. Why? Tables.

It’s been a long time since I was writing application programs but - call me crazy - if I were designing the Federal exchange website, I’d write just one program rather than twenty-seven different ones - or twenty-seven different State pieces of one. And I’d have that one program read tables from the various States and insurance companies to get the information I needed to do my calculations and display my results. And the amount of work would be the same whether I was handling one State or all fifty-seven.

Except for testing, of course, but the kind of testing needed for multiple States is different from testing whether the data could flow through the website from beginning to end. That is, you get the system pushing data through quickly and cleanly and once that’s happening - that is, once the exchange appears to be working - you start testing specific cases for accurate output. Needing extra time to be sure the tables for each State produced accurate output might have meant the Federal exchange came up providing wrong answers - although that kind of testing actually is something you can throw extra manpower at - but it wouldn’t mean the Federal exchange basically didn’t come up at all.

So maybe I’m missing something but I’m unable to see how the lack of State exchanges had anything to do with the ObamaCare rollout crashing and burning. Unless, of course, President Obama and Secretary Sebelius and Jonathan Bernstein were delusional enough to believe they’d never have to create the Federal exchange website at all.



* There also seems to be a side skirmish of blaming Republicans because “Democrats really wanted single payer”. I would like to think this will be harder to sell since, as T99 points out, ObamaCare passed on a straight Democratic Party vote and thus could have taken any form the Democrats wanted. However, I fear even this ludicrous argument will be uncritically accepted by those whose first priority is avoiding reality.

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