Adventures in Obamacare

Last week James Taranto declared (facetiously): “There’s only one thing that can save ObamaCare now. AN OBAMA SPEECH.” It seems that Taranto was on to something. The Washington Post reports (not facetiously):

President Obama is expected to address the site’s technical problems — “troubles that he and his team find unacceptable” — at a White House event Monday to highlight the law, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event has not yet taken place.

I was curious about that event. What is it? It must be something of a secret at this point. The President’s public schedule for today is blank.

As of this moment the Obama administration has refused to disclose the technical issues bedeviling the Obamacare portal Healthcare.gov. Whatever they are, they are said to be “unacceptable” to Obama, as the Post reports above, whatever that means. I think it has something to do with public relations. The Washington Post article touches on the administration’s public relations approach:

Even now [that problems have been acknowledged], administration officials are declining to disclose many details about the debugging effort. They will not say how many experts — whom they describe as “the best and the brightest” — are on the team, when the team began its work or how soon the site’s flaws might be corrected. Still, in talking about the repairs, administration officials for the first time conceded that the site’s problems extend beyond well-publicized front-end obstacles, such as with setting up a personal account.

Since the exchange opened, officials at the White House and HHS had until now insisted that the site’s problems were caused primarily by its popularity — that more people were trying to get on than could be accommodated at once. Even Sunday, the HHS spokesman said the “main driver of the problems is volume.”

The Post is laughably complacent about the course of events. Post reporter Amy Goldstein notes only: “[T]he administration is facing intensifying pressure to be more forthcoming.” She doesn’t mean to provide any ammunition to the proposition that there might have been something to the idea that the whole thing should be called off, at least for a year, or that it’s not ready for prime time. It shows no indignation over the administration’s treatment of the issues as a state secret.

The New York Times eats the Post’s lunch on this story. It sics three reporters on the case and does not come away empty handed. Here is the opening of the article:

Federal contractors have identified most of the main problems crippling President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, but the administration has been slow to issue orders for fixing those flaws, and some contractors worry that the system may be weeks away from operating smoothly, people close to the project say.

Administration officials approached the contractors last week to see if they could perform the necessary repairs and reboot the system by Nov. 1. However, that goal struck many contractors as unrealistic, at least for major components of the system. Some specialists working on the project said the online system required such extensive repairs that it might not operate smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January, although that view is not universally shared.

In interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.

“The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later,” said one person involved in the repair effort.

Mickey Kaus suggests that it’s time to dial 1-800-PANIC. He even has a few constructive suggestions. I have one of my own: How about leveling with the American people?

UPDATE: The Hill provides a preview of the Rose Garden event to take place today. Geoffrey Norman aptly describes it as “another teachable moment.” John Fund has a bit more on the possible extremity of the technical issues here.

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