NYT Coverage of Obamacare System Fiasco Blames Republicans, Cites Key March Warning It Originally Failed to Report

October 13th, 2013 11:54 PM

Three New York Times reporters' coverage of HealthCare.gov's systemic failures is inadvertently funny. Its opening paragraph quotes Henry Chao, described as "the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace," as "deeply worried about the web site's debut" way back in March, and hoping that "it’s not a third-world experience." The Third World, many of whose developers have shown that they can design functional interactive web sites, should feel insulted.

The inadvertent humor comes from the fact that Chao's statement received quite a bit of coverage at center-right outlets and blogs (e.g., Washington Examiner, Forbes, Hot Air, PJ Tatler, Townhall, American Thinker, Gateway Pundit, and many others) when he originally made it in March, and was widely known in the industry. But, as seen in a date-sorted Times search on Chao's name, the Old Gray Lady originally didn't consider it fit to print.

As would be expected, the report by Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere, and Ian Austen has other weaknesses, including ridiculous attempts to shift blame to Republicans and recalcitrant states (HT to frequent BizzyBlog commenter dscott; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal


In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them.

... For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House [1], which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative [2], which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

“These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. [3] “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, 'It’s awful, just awful.'"

Interviews with two dozen contractors, current and former government officials, insurance executives and consumer advocates, as well as an examination of confidential administration documents, point to a series of missteps — financial, technical and managerial — that led to the troubles.

Politics made things worse. To avoid giving ammunition to Republicans opposed to the project, the administration put off issuing several major rules until after last November’s elections. [4] The Republican-controlled House blocked funds. More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways. [5]

Confidential progress reports from the Health and Human Services Department show that senior officials repeatedly expressed doubts that the computer systems for the federal exchange would be ready on time, blaming delayed regulations, a lack of resources [6] and other factors.


[1] — This fiasco may have "embarrassed" the White House, but it certainly hasn't led to any serious rebukes of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, prime vendow CGI Group, or anyone else who has created this clunky, calamitous contraption.

[2] — The "fiscal health" train has long since left the station. In May, the Congressional Budget Office projected Obamacare's ten-year cost as $1.8 trillion, double the $900 billion President Barack Obama had been advertising. They're surely just warming up on cost overruns. The country is already almost $17 trillion in debt, and can't afford this albatross.

[3] — Once again, the Obama administration's culture of intimidation has had a role in causing a government program to function poorly by clearly limiting participants' comfort to speak freely. It has also made it difficult for the few journalists who seem to care to get a handle on the project's status — another example of the "chilling effect on journalism" cited here several days ago.

[4] — This is pathetic. It's not Republicans' fault that the administration chose not to release the necessary rules. Those were their choices. They get to live with them.

[5] — This excuse also doesn't fly. Obama and Sebelius surely knew that many states would not set up their own exchanges. The perhaps larger than expected number of states which chose not to do so shouldn't really matter. If system had been correctly designed, scalability, a problem relatively easily addressed, should have been the only issue.

[6] -- For all practical purposes, the government had an unlimited budget, couldn't get it done, and is still whining about "resources." Lord have mercy.

Times readers should be wondering where the heck the newspaper's reporters have been as this disaster unfolded during the 3-1/2 years since Obamacare become law. If they're smart and want to stay current, their readers should seek their news from other sources and cancel their subscriptions.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.