Matters of Opinion

The Health Care Dot Gov Website – Did Anyone Expect This to be Easy?

frustrationThis past week I found myself smack in the middle of the national zeitgeist: I signed up on-line for a health care policy. Even though Massachusetts has had its own healthcare exchange since 2006 the process was not without its headaches. I’m certainly no computer whiz, but after a weeklong series of back-and-forth e-mails and faxes, I was apparently one of only thirty-five hundred people statewide who managed to survive what critics of ObamaCare are billing as a government technological failure on the level of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Although comparing a fatal explosion in space to a computer crash sounds cold, you wouldn’t know it for all the hyperbolic ranting on Fox News and in congress. And there is one similarity. Both situations can be attributed to the design failures of outside contractors working with a government agency that felt pressure to launch.

Having lived half my life in a world before personal computers were as common as toasters—in a long-ago, far-away world in which no one ever conceived of making French toast in toasters—I’ve always considered computers to be noting more than a nifty tool.

Are all books better because authors can write them with Microsoft Word? Are all movies better because you can watch them on NetFlix? Are bills cheaper because you can pay them online? Let’s be honest about this.

Certain things are always going to suck and buying health insurance is one of them. The first time I ever bought a health insurance policy I sat across the desk from a salesman who was either a pathological liar to too stupid to understand the fine print in the policy he was selling. Either way, my first and only claim was rejected because of a pre-existing condition.

So I don’t really know where the notion came from that signing up for a health care plan was going to be simple, sort of like driving through a tollbooth with Easy Pass; or frankly anything other than a big pain in the butt.

Is it easy to sign up for a PayPal account? Is it easy to get an on-line upgrade of your phone from Verizon?  Frankly I’d rather have an ingrown toenail removed than go through that again. And by the way, surprise, surprise, one of the government contractors on the website was Verizon’s Terremark unit.

So for any of you searching for health insurance who are actually considering signing up online, I would have to rate the process as somewhat harder than ordering an on-line pizza but a total breeze compared to getting phone support for my computer.

The biggest glitch—since I use a PO Box instead of a street address—was actually getting the site to grasp where I live. In Wellfleet, this is a problem every pizza deliveryman has to contend with. But because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was not Microsoft and they had people answering the help lines whose first language was not Hindi, this was a problem that was eventually solved.

Now I know there are people whose health care policies were mistakenly cancelled and that’s frightening. I know there are people whose computers froze.

But on come now, the two operable words we’re talking about here are government and website. Two words that when linked together promise about as much quality as fast and food.

Has anybody ever paid payroll tax on their computer? Or tried to correct a mistake on their social security account? When I was finally able to renew my truck registration on Registry of Motor Vehicles site I felt so proud I ran around my office pointing to the sky like David Ortiz after hitting a home run.

ObamaCare is going to make life tolerable for a lot of struggling families, a lot of poor children, and a lot people with pre-existing conditions.

But it’s being delivered by a partnership of the same type of nitwits who brought you the War in Iraq and iTunes for Windows. And if there’s one thing high-tech companies and government have in common it’s that they over-promise and under-deliver.

So for now my only advice is, eat an apple a day, wait for the update, and be wary of getting a virus, because that might be something neither you nor health care dot gov could recover from any time soon.

I’m Ira Wood and that’s my opinion.

Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.