It's tough to pick a winner here, but the NY Times has one of the funnier bits of reporting on the ObamaCare website debacle. The setup is the lead:
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.
And their punchline:
Administration officials approached the contractors last week to see if they could perform the necessary repairs and reboot the system by Nov. 1.
I know nothing about the specific problems but I know enough to know that two weeks isn't happening. The Times soldiers on semi-straightfacedly:
However, that goal struck many contractors as unrealistic, at least for major components of the system.
No kidding. Back in reality the timetable remains blurry:
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.
You have to bet the "over" here.
Left unreported - forget about computer systems. Anyone who has ever used a contractor to renovate a house, or a bedroom, or a bathroom has learned two universal rules - it costs more, and takes longer. In my humble and limited experience, that rule applies to computer systems as well. I marvel at (and am somewhat jealous of) the charmed and sheltered lives led by Obama and Sebilius that they have never been exposed to these rules.
The Times makes the same point made earlier by others (e.g., Ezra Klein, point 2)- the login and account creation problems are sheltering us from the reality of the real problems:
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.
This account of the health care lottery would be funny in some other context. OK, it's funny here:
Insurance executives said in interviews that they were frustrated because they did not know the government’s plan or schedule for repairs. Insurers have found that the system provides them with incorrect information about some enrollees, repeatedly enrolls and cancels the enrollments of others, and simply loses the enrollments of still others.
Correcting those errors, specialists said, could require extensive rewriting of software code. Insurers said it could be weeks before their data and the government’s could be reconciled.
Come 2014 we will have at least two types of debacle. Insurance companies will start billing people who never actually enrolled. That is only a minio-crisis: since the companies won't deserve to collect no tears will be shed. Eventually their premiums for 2015 will depend (in part) on their actual enrollments for 2014, but that pain will be deferred.
However! We will also hear stories of people who thought they had enrolled with a plan but got bounced when they eventually ask for their insurance card or try to file a claim. Does this mean they have no insurance for 2014? Does it mean they lose their COBRA benefits?
Well, probably not - I think it will mean that Obama will enroll these people somewhere by executive fiat. But we will all have to listen to a lot of well-deserved and heartfelt howling first.