The Six Million Dollar Man vs. the One BILLION Dollar Website

majorsBloomberg’s Peter Gosselin recently reported that the taxpayer cost of Healthcare.gov (aka the Obamacare website) has now surpassed one billion dollars. Yes, that’s billion with a b!

This is certainly a far cry from the original projected cost of the project, which was stated to be no more than $93.7 million. When we found out through numerous reports back in October that the actual cost had already exceeded $600 million, though, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to believe that the $1 billion dollar marker would indeed be surpassed. As is often the case when it comes to spending, the government met our expectations.

Sadly, even after all of that money, the website still has many, many problems.

Just Monday in fact, the Washington Post reported that a whopping one third of all signups on Healthcare.gov contain serious errors that were created by the computer system. As someone who has an extensive background in systems development, and has worked on million-dollar, web-based systems, I’m not at all surprised by this news.

When a system isn’t storing user-information in a database correctly, that’s an enormous problem. It can cause a slue of additional, often catastrophic issues that often won’t be fully recognized until later. The ideal solution, when this kind of thing happens, is to shut down the data collection mechanism of the system as quickly as possible, until developers can fix the problem. The longer users are allowed to enter data that the system is corrupting, the harder it will be to later go back and correct that data.

That’s why it was truly absurd for Kathleen Sebelius to continually insist to congress and reporters that leaving the system up while repairs were being made to it was the smart choice. It wasn’t. In the private sector, developers often don’t even have that choice, though they wish they did. In most cases, they aren’t afforded the luxury of just pulling a system offline because their customers depend on that system for their everyday needs.

In the case of Healthcare.gov, however, they absolutely could have pulled its plug until the problems were fixed. Many public servants were calling for that very action. So were many journalists. And if the plug had been pulled, I can guarantee you that nowhere near one third of the website’s signups wouldn’t have been corrupted. Yet, the egos in the Obama administration wouldn’t have that, because they believed it would do them additonal political damage to bring the site down. They believed it would be read as an admission of defeat. Thus, their pride further drove up Healthcare.gov’s costs, and the American people are continuing to flip the dime for it.

One of the frustrations often felt by fiscal conservatives like me, is that most Americans simply haven’t a clue how totally perverse this culture of reckless government spending is. Sure, we all bitch and moan about how much money Uncle Sam takes out of our paychecks every couple of weeks, but I don’t think the majority of the country – even a majority of those working and paying federal taxes – truly understands why such fiscal irresponsibility demands public outrage.

Even with our national debt now racing toward $18 trillion, most people still just don’t get it.

So, I thought it would be a fun little exercise to look at the hugely expensive, painfully flawed Healthcare.gov website in the context of something most Americans do have an interest in: Entertainment television.

Remember that old television series from the 1970’s starring Lee Majors called The Six Million Dollar Man? It was the story of a former astronaut named Steve Austin who was “rebuilt” by the U.S. government with bionic implants after suffering a severe accident. He then worked for a government agency to help protect the country from danger.

I used to watch re-runs of that show when I was a kid, and thought it was pretty darned cool at the time. I also remember thinking that $6 million – the cost of rebuilding Steve Austin with bionic technology – was an astronomically large amount of money. And from what I later read, the creators of the show actually put a lot of thought into coming up with that $6 million tag, estimating the fathomable cost of such a technological advance if it were possible to make.

That’s a lot of money. As far as government technology goes, however, Steve Austin was apparently one heck of an awesome bargain.

For $6 million, we got a guy who could run at speeds of 60 mph, had the strength of a bulldozer, was equipped with zoom and infrared vision, and saved countless American lives. For $1 billion, we got a plethora of 404 errors along with instructions to call a service representative at a 1-800 number.

For $6 million, we got a guy who generated a cool slow-motion, grinding sound when he ran. For $1 billion, we got the sound of angry profanities shouted at computer screens across the country whenever the entry of time-consuming data was lost.

For $6 million, only extremely cold temperatures and zero gravity space caused Steve Austin’s bionics to malfunction. For $1 billion, entering your birth date in an input field has been known to cause Healthcare.gov to malfunction.

For $6 million, we got a guy who saved the world from nuclear Armageddon multiple times. For $1 billion, we got a website where many Americans can’t even find a plan that saves them money on their visits to the doctor.

The Office of Scientific Intelligence, the U.S. government office that Steve Austin worked for, diligently protected the secrets of its $6 million investment through state of the art, top level security systems. If a recent report from CNBC is accurate, there was essentially no security built into the Healthcare.gov website (the Obama administration’s $1 billion “investment”). Multiple cyber-security experts, including one that testified in front of congress last week, recommend that the site should be completely shut down until numerous, concerning security issues are addressed. Another estimates that the required changes could take up to a year to employ and adequately test.

And I think we can all agree that Kathleen Sebelius, the supervisor of the 1 Billion Dollar Website, is no Oscar Goldman, the supervisor of the 6 Million Dollar Man. Just the fact that Goldman actually knew what was going on at his own agency is proof of that. From a Dead Sleep by John A. Daly

Now, I fully realize that this is a silly comparison. I’m contrasting a work of fiction to a real-life situation that many of us simply wish was a work of fiction. But I must say, as a novelist and thus a fiction writer myself, the debacle that is Healthcare.gov, and in much larger part the Affordable Care Act itself, is the kind of stuff that writers like me wish they could dream up, merely for the sake of entertaining others.

Unfortunately, it’s all very real. Only the talking points are fictional. The result is the country being dragged into this liberal fantasy where people receive benefits without other people paying a cost. And now far too many of us are forced to deal with rising premiums, rising deductibles, more expensive healthcare, retiring health plans, fewer work hours, and fewer options for healthcare services, all in order to try and support that fantasy.

If only Lee Majors could get us out of this, and do so for a reasonable $6 million.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • Bob Olden

    Every person left hung out to dry by Obamacare has a network of family and friends, and undoubtedly the victims complain loudly about how ripped off they feel. Those people left out there who still worship Obama must be feeling like the communist sympathizers around the world when the Soviet Union crumbled to pieces. When will we reach critical mass?

  • Suzy

    Get over it. Kaiser Permanente spent more than that to get their electronic patient records set up. And eventually they got it right and now it’s paying for itself in savings.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      And who paid for that, Suzy?

      • Suzy

        Like I said, it’s paying for itself in dramatically reduced costs.

        • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

          The correct answer is: Kaiser Permanente paid for it, not the the American tax payer. If a private organization wants to spend billions on something they believe will benefit them, that’s perfectly fine. Why? Because you and I aren’t the ones paying for it. They are. Their investment. Their risk.

          Paying $1 billion for a website that should have cost less than 1/10 of that, based on what it does, is absolutely ridiculous. It could never, ever pay for itself. That wasn’t even the goal of it.

          Setting up electronic records for patients is a far greater task than just setting up an enrollment site. Add in the facts that WE are the ones who paid for it, and it didn’t even work, and you’ve got yourself just another example of how completely insane and irresponsible the federal government is when it comes to spending.

          It’s OUR money that was wasted, so we have every right to be upset about it.

          • Suzy

            Actually, I didn’t want to get into it, but Kaiser’s MEMBERSHIP paid for it. So it was much the same – pay as a group now, to save as a group later.

          • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

            That’s not how Healthcare.gov was paid for, Suzy.

    • http://www.e-marketingpartner.com/ Bob

      That’s exactly the point Suzy. Kaiser, a private company, was able to complete the job, the US Government wasn’t.

  • D Parri

    Oh, BTW, if you think you’ve seen some really messed up stuff so far just wait till next year rolls in. As the BTO song goes, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet…!

    Mark my words, the worst is yet to come…the insurance industry will come out looking like it’s been run through a meat-grinder.

  • D Parri

    Yes, JD, you could have delivered a better product at fraction of the cost of the HCG website, and you would have been finished and ready with the rollout in under one year–complete with front-to-back end security testing in the multiples.

    But, could you have done that under contract with the president’s wife’s schoolmate? You see, there are lot’s of additional costs involved when you involve kick-backs, personal pay-offs, and some rather shady manipulation of the bid and contracting processes.

    Sorry guys, but I see this whole fiasco through the lens of some huge payments made to someone…for what? You can’t simply blow it off and say, “Oh, that’s the way government operates.” This travesty most definitely involves insider dealing and shenanigans beyond comprehension.

  • Josh

    I freelance some as a copywriter doing SEO gibberish for companies like Qwaya and Snus, and have zero coding capabilities. Yet when my brother asked me to create a website for his new handyman service, I read some how-to stuff on Google and converted a blog into a basic website, complete with collapsible text, dozens of pages, picture apps, an automated review feature, on-site support, and other cool features. Total cost: $12 (for the domain service).

    Granted, we’re talking about a handful of people logging on at a time. But I’m supposed to believe that websites are so incredibly complicated that a billion won’t get it done? Hell to the no.

    I agree: people wish they could make this stuff up. I know I do. Googly-eyed slim aliens traveling unfathomable distances to mutilate simple folk are easy to dream up. Who woulda ever thunk actual supposedly intelligent people, of the planet earth, could bungle things so royally IRL?

    • Wheels55

      It could have been done for a 10th of what it is costing – and that includes the wasteful nature of government contracts.
      When they throw so much money at it, it just seems likely that there are too many cooks in that kitchen. Also, it just seems like nobody truly would know what is going on – even if Sebelius knew what she was doing. Smaller is more efficient. That’s why big government does not work.

      • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

        FAR less than a 10th. Believe me.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      Healthcare.gov is the kind of web portal site that I used to create for a living. I’ve worked on such systems for years and can tell you that the team I worked with could and DID deliver a product that was very stable, did MUCH more, with far better security, equal database capacity, and could handle the same load for less than a million dollars.

      The fact that U.S. taxpayers paid $1 billion is perverse beyond recognition.

      • Josh

        So, private industry>government 1000:1.

        I would say that’s bad for government, but the way it seems is that the worse they do, the better off they are. Crap blows up, increase the breadth of bureaucracy to “fix” it.

        It’s starting to remind me of the school system here. Students failing? Oh, no problem. Pay teachers more, hire more administrators, lower standards, shuffle things around.

        Being surrounded by people who still wail on with their Obama apologetics, I just don’t know how clearer the message can be at this point. Even with polls suggesting Obama’s taking a hit, I don’t see it reflected through live attitudes. Independents, in my experience, are still socially left leaning. So I hope their fiscal sensibilities kick in and step on this administration’s throat through the next cycle and until ’16.

      • http://www.e-marketingpartner.com/ Bob

        That’s exactly what I thought too, although I think it took more than two years to build the system we were working on…

        • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

          We had a guy named Torrez who slowed us down. ;)

          • http://www.e-marketingpartner.com/ Bob

            Plus a Chinese national.

            Seriously though, at the high point we had maybe 7 developers? I’m thinking for a billion dollars you could hire a few more people and maybe get it done on time.

          • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

            And some guy from Russia who still gets blamed for difficulties with the code. ;)

            Yeah, I’m pretty sure they had more than seven developers working on it. ;)

  • Skip in VA

    I have a question no one seems to have addressed: when someone DOES get on Healthcare.gov and signs up for a less “crappy” insurance plan, doesn’t the insurance company have to send a card or something that will identify the people as being insured? It doesn’t seem logical to me that having a cut-off date to sign up as being Dec.23 in order to have coverage by Jan.1, 2014 without some notification being given to the new owner of said insurance. Let’s say I’m the one that signed up and I go to the doctor on Jan. 15th and just tell them that I’m covered by Obamacare, I’m sure the receptionist is going to say, “let me see your card.” Am I missing something here?

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      Sadly, I’m guessing the Obama administration doesn’t know how to answer that question any better than I do.

    • Wheels55

      What I have heard about this is just what you said. The insurance sold via this wizardry of a website is still through insurance companies. Doctors and medical facilities will still need to see a card. The website was never meant to be anything but a portal to see all kinds of insurance choices. Couldn’t someone who really wants health insurance just walk into an insurance broker office and pick out a plan to buy? The free market place has always been around to serve. Obama makes it seem like this website is the only way to buy insurance. Of course, he wouldn’t know since he doesn’t personally buy his and only met with Sebelius once in three years.
      It really pisses me off that Obama constantly goes around talking about his Obamacare and doesn’t even take the time to meet with the person he put in charge.

  • Wheels55

    For $1 billion, we could give nice health insurance to 200,000 people for one year. For the final price tag of Obamacare (subsidies, continuing to throw money at problems, the costs of Obama and gang to fly around talking up this failure, etc.), we could just give the pre-existing conditions people healthcare. The other so-called benefits of Obamacare could be handled by the free market place and not make the premiums for 80% of Americans go up so much.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      Great points indeed.

  • Jeff Webb

    Knowing this administration, they’d only hire Majors to make him the Fall Guy.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      Nice!