I was asked to describe Obamacare in one word- tough to do. To explain it I’ll present the following:
People still want me to comment on the ACA (unAffordable Careless Act) from my perspective. I’ve been a software developer since 1982 with 10 years in the health care industry, 2 years in law enforcement and high end security, 5 years in the oil industry, 4 years developing and modifying accounting systems, 5 years working with telecommunication systems and 5 years as a Senior System Architect supervising others working on a variety of projects including: computer biometrics, GPS satellite systems and data encryption and security transmission. I have been a Microsoft Valuable Programmer for Visual Studio and SQL Server. I am still active in many online programming groups providing advice and solutions to others seeking assistance. Doesn’t qualify me to discuss the programming known as Obamacare, but does allow me some insight into apparent problems.
Legacy computer systems were designed for individual companies for their specific needs and are generally contained on mainframes with a PC interface. They are the most difficult to attach to from your program in order to receive data and translate it so your system can read and understand it and of course if you change any of the data you have to re-translate it to return it to the original source.
So what does a legacy system got to do with ObamaCare? It’s all new using the latest, greatest software (we hope) and capable of all the fancy, dancy things that all the other great commerce websites do. And you are right. The problem is all of the data and information that this website needs to access are all old legacy systems. Now you’ll have to bear with me just a little, bit we need to go back in time in explaining a little bit about electronic data systems and Ross Perot and what effect he has had upon the healthcare and insurance industry.
EDS (or Electronic Data Systems) was created by Mr. Perot from his excess oil money with the purpose of creating a standard of transmission for medical and health insurance data from one computer system to another. It was quickly adapted by all companies working in the healthcare and insurance fields as the standard and Mr. Perot sold it for billions of dollars to General Motors which has since sold it to another company. Mr. Perot then used the money to create another company called Perot systems, whose purpose was to create a common data interpretation between various computer systems. He also used a portion of those funds to run for president against Clinton and Bush number one. He was receiving approximately 20% of the total vote and then he dropped out for some paranoid reason.
Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, had his best programmers working on a FREE Healthcare Systems Data Framework. This was a system that would allow all computerized equipment to send and receive data to any other computerized equipment. Say I write a program for a doctor’s office. I write it in a proprietary language specifically for the needs of this doctor’s office. I include a transmit/receive module which translates the doctor’s patient information into a standard that can be sent to the hospitals computer system with this doctor’s orders for blood work and x-rays. When the patient arrives the hospitals system has the information (in their legacy computer system) and when the x-ray and blood work is completed this system can transpose the data into the Microsoft Healthcare Data Framework and transmit it back to the doctor and his program can interpret the data and display it for him. This system allowed everyone to keep what they have and communicate openly and securely with anybody else in the health care industry.
Perot Systems, Inc. created a similar system (which having worked with both was nowhere near as good as Microsoft’s). And every time a translation was made, Perot Systems, Inc. would be paid ¼ of one cent. So that all of the data being transmitted would go through their servers whereas Microsoft’s would be direct from one computer to another. The Health and Human Services issued a contract to Perot Systems, Inc. to create transmit/send modules for all of the VA and Medicare offices thereby forcing their system to be the standard instead of the free one from Mr. Gates. Then Mr. Perot re-entered the Presidential campaign and siphoned away enough votes to keep President Bush from being re-elected. You and I pay from our taxes over $3 billion dollars a year for the governmental use of the Perot Systems, Inc. data framework. Very few other companies use it. Politics, can’t live without it, huh!
Let us get back to the ObamaCare website. Again, I don’t know all of the specifics but I can tell from the process that I went through and from what I have been able to read and hear from other programmers on various discussion groups a bit about what goes on behind the scene.
One thing that is hard to understand is why they chose the verification process they did. When you type in your name, Social Security number, and date of birth, the system goes out to Trans Union credit reporting company to determine whether you are a live human being. Personally, I would think they would check the Social Security database- but we know it is full of fraudulent account numbers. If you have never applied for credit when you’re young and you’re one of the people that they want to sign up you would not show up as a human being in the Trans Union credit file. However, this also allows them, if they can find you in this database, to get your current credit score.
Now, what has your credit score got to do with anything? We know that auto insurance rates are based upon your credit score, and I’ll bet you did not know that if you had an individual health insurance policy part of your rate is based upon your credit score. Therefore, the ACA system now has the possibility of providing an entirely different rate fee for you, as opposed to a friend of yours, who is the same age, everything else the same but has a bad credit score. Is this a built-in economic discrimination? Only a careful examination of the coding can determine that- but with all of the other “hidden” problems one has a solid basis for speculation.
Then they ask for ALL kinds of information, some of which you wonder why they need that information. This data is being collected to augment the census data. If you indicate something different on the site from what you indicated on the long census form in 2010 or the next one in 2020, then the government can consider you to have improved/decrease your life style. Therefore, now we know that the web site connects to the IRS and the U.S. Census Bureau somewhere along the line.
Then you provide a username and password. Generally, in most web applications the username will default to your email address (yes, the web sites you attach to CAN gather all kinds of information from your computer –without you knowing it. I have programmed several to do that, and not just look at the “cookie” left on your machine). Most web programs ask you to login first and provide a username and password. This is the easiest way to send out a verification email that who is signing up/enrolling is a legitimate person. The government in their ultimate wisdom decided that a significant number of enrollees would be below the poverty level and not have internet access and/or an email address. This just continues to show, to me, how completely out of touch with reality most members of this administration are. There are 425 million cell phones in the U.S. with a population of 335 million persons including babies, homeless, idiots and democrats. Even with a cell phone (including the infamous oBAMa-phone) you can send an email to it to be received as a text message. At AT&T it was phonenumber @att.txt.com. But they decided to do it in reverse. They wanted all of your information before you actually logged in.
You may then be asked to verify who you are. The program will ask you to pick which address you have not lived at and show you three of your last address and one fake address. Did I forget to tell you that they also gathered the last 20 years of your credit report. Your addresses, your phone numbers, and everything else that is on the report is stored in a variety of memory variables for use throughout the rest of the program. And therein lies the next problem.
I have lost many programming jobs to the new, young, hip programmers who grew up making the “coolest” of games. However, to make an enterprise wide, industrial strength software program is entirely different. Many of today’s programming languages allow for some unique tools and techniques that I used to spend hours coding by hand to occur that can be done by just dragging and dropping an icon on the screen. One of the biggest problems with programming languages is memory management. We used to have to declare variables, initialize them with values, manipulate them and then destroy them within the program. Now it is dependent upon the programs and/or the data servers- they automatically do what we used to call “garbage collection.” When the computer’s processor is below a certain level then the processor will clear out the memory. Generally, it takes just a fraction of a thousandth of a second – except. If you have millions of users hitting it at approximately the same time then it is possible for a new instance of the program to be started and the memory variables from another user will show up, as they have not been cleared. Then if you are a young, sloppy programmer, those incorrect values are stored for your user, which is what was documented that happened during the first week or so of the tragedy known as the ACA. (Oh, I used to charge 3-4 times what I would have normally charged to fix those problems that the younger ones created).
Programming for the government has traditionally been difficult- the more complex the more the frustration. If you worked for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) or NASA and you submitted a piece of code, it underwent review by dozens of people. If you wanted to change something in submitted code, it took about 50-pages of documentation to justify the reason for the change. Of course, that is how we managed to get into space, to the moon and back safely. They stopped that and went to eXtreme Programming which worked well. The first Mars probe crashed because the landing system was based upon tenths of a foot, inch, yard, etc. while the telemetry was based upon centimeter and meters- the format was the same but two entirely different measurement systems. The Columbia and Challenger disasters were also blamed upon the slackening of standards. They reinstituted them, took a lot longer to get each shuttle up in the air but no more lives were lost. The good old ways are often just that- good.
It is common, in the software development cycle to contract for a certain price for the requested specifications. Then, if during the course of the development the customer wishes to add/delete/change a feature then you negotiate a change requirement that is added to the original contract price. So to go from $63 million dollars (which is very expensive to start with for what I can see was to be developed. With the last group of developers I worked with we probably would have bid about $35 million for it. Of course, I doubt that we would have gotten security clearances knowing some of the folks- just hope that the actual programmers did) to the $273 million dollars which was the last quoted figure before they realized it wasn’t working. So many different agencies wanting to get different compilations of data from this massive intrusion on our privacy, I can’t imagine how they managed to even keep up with the change requests.
So yes the ACA (unAffordable Careless Act is :Floccinaucinihilipilification The act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant, of having no value or being worthless