Take a deep breath

Confession: I am not a professional computer programmer. However, in my job as a reliability engineer and someone who works with data, writing computer code is an interesting and challenging part of the job.

A recent project makes me somewhat sympathetic to the folks getting lambasted over the problems with the website. I was tasked with creating a global website for my company where test data from prototype airbag inflators would be stored. This required code where several programs communicated with each other to create graphs and other output, where multiple inflator plants worldwide needed to be able to enter data, and where even more facilities needed to be able to access it in a straightforward, user-friendly manner.

You fellow programmers out there will be nodding in understanding at the following: I tested the beegeebers out of the thing before I rolled it out to others in the global organization for “beta testing”; a term for getting people working with it before implementation to help find and fix the bugs. Sure enough, flaws started to be discovered by real people using it that I hadn’t caught, and these problems continued to trickle in for about six weeks. Finally, at that point, we released the thing for general use.

I think everyone understands the concept that computers are stupid machines. They simply do exactly what you tell them to and have no skill at all in reading human minds. Computer code is extremely complex except for the simplest functions, and it’s understood that testing and de-bug can be challenging and take some time.

With this introduction, I have to shake my head in amusement over Republicans using the problems as another excuse to tell us America is doomed to extinction because of Obamacare. I can’t believe those folks haven’t caught the hint that we are all sick and tired of this modern version of “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer On The Wall”.

When I say “amused”, I’m referring to the fact that there are multiple sweet ironies in this story.

I’m amused when they use to claim “the government can’t do anything right”, when it has been private contractors constructing the site from day one. There’s also the insinuation that these problems don’t happen in the business world. My response to that: Can you say “Microsoft Vista”?

I have to laugh also that one of their ideological cast-in-concrete axioms is absolutely true in this case: Individual states could do these websites much better than the federal government. And not because computer programmers automatically undergo a lobotomy when they take a check from the Treasury Department. A piece of software that has to accommodate the rules and regulations of 30 states and which insurance companies are offering what in which state will be orders of magnitude more complex. The authors of the Affordable Care Act assumed most states would manage their own insurance exchanges. This assumption didn’t factor in the intransigence of Republican governors who would do anything to hinder its success. From all accounts, state-run insurance exchanges seem to be working much better.

Which leads to the greatest irony of all. It appears the place where the Affordable Care Act exchange is working best of all is in deep-red Kentucky, home state of two of Obamacare’s fiercest critics, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. And unlike certain other red-state Democrats (who we know and love), Democratic Governor Steve Beshear has been an unabashed cheerleader for Obamacare. His administration created their own state exchange and has labored tirelessly to make it work – and unsurprisingly, it is working. Thousands of Kentuckians who have never been able to afford health insurance are signing up every day.

No doubt the rollout of didn’t work as advertised, and could have been done better. One especially worrisome thing (for you fellow geeks out there who understand object-oriented programming) is the word that there are a lot more lines of code than required, meaning there’s been unnecessary duplication. That will complicate finding and fixing the bugs.

But at the end of the day, buggy computer software gets de-bugged every day of the week in our modern world. Of course they’ll fix it. And Republican governors who should have followed the example of Governor Beshear are as much to blame as anyone for the problems. Don’t complain when something doesn’t work when you’ve worked tirelessly to sabotage it.

When all is said and done, you will be able to add this to the “death panels” list as one of the hundreds of false “the sky is falling” claims made by Republicans about Obamacare.

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