Obamacare’s Flawed Computer System has lots of Company

It’s a train wreck.

The programmers knew a disaster was coming. The computer system they created was far too primitive to keep up with the traffic. A major crash was inevitable.

And what’s worse, similar computer failures are certain to continue. The system will never be able to handle the quantity of data involved. The whole idea was ill-conceived.

There’s only one solution. We have to shut it down. It was a bad idea from the start, and Americans deserve better.

We have no choice but to close Nasdaq.

Last summer, Nasdaq’s computer system crashed when its process for communicating data failed. The crash caused its network to freeze for three hours in the middle of a trading day, and trading volume shrank significantly. The disruption followed an earlier computer malfunction in January.

Can the private sector get anything right? The problem goes well beyond Nasdaq. On the same day as its crash, Microsoft reported email failures when a computer glitch in its smartphone service caused the volume of traffic to overwhelm its servers.

The week before, several of Google’s websites froze for four hours. Global traffic fell by a reported 40%. Amazon’s North American site crashed for 49 minutes causing a loss estimated at $2 million. And the New York Times site failed for two hours reducing the newspaper to posting articles on its Facebook page.

And the list of private sector computer woes doesn’t end there. The Common Application, an automated application system accepted by more than 500 colleges and universities, has been largely dysfunctional since a revised website was launched in August. Among its problems - students can’t log on, make payments, preview their applications, or upload essays. Apparently, the private nonprofit corporation that operates the site failed to properly test the new system before it went live.

Sound familiar?

Obamacare’s malfunctioning computer system has lots of company. Serious computer failures are all too common throughout American industry.

Some Obamacare opponents point to the website problems as evidence that the entire law should be scrapped. That is like pointing to this year’s slew of private sector crashes to argue that Nasdaq, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the New York Times, and online college applications should be shut down.

Of course, Obamacare’s computer woes are more serious than most of the others. A month after its launch, the website is still only minimally operational.

But its problems are not unique. They prove that the computer system for online insurance marketplaces was poorly designed, not that the law’s underlying concept is flawed. Whether individuals purchase insurance through a website, a toll-free phone number or an old-fashioned paper application, the end result is the same - they are still getting coverage. And if they have a pre-existing medical condition, this may be the first time they have been able to do that. 

Computer flaws or not, the goal of guaranteeing every American the ability to obtain health insurance remains a sound one.

Robert I. Field is the author of Mother of Invention: How the Government Created 'Free-Market' Health Care, just released by Oxford University Press.


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