Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

HR 3200 Considered As Software 296

Posted by kdawson
from the needs-configuration-management dept.
bfwebster writes "Independent of one's personal opinions regarding the desirability and forms of government-mandated health care reform, there exists the question of how well HR 3200 (or any other legislation) will actually achieve that end and what the unintended (or even intended) consequences may be. There are striking similarities between crafting software and creating legislation, including risks and pitfalls — except that those risks and pitfalls are greater in legislation. I've written an article (first of a three-part series) examining those parallels and how these apply to HR 3200."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

HR 3200 Considered As Software

Comments Filter:
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:19AM (#29346993)

    Something needs to be done as today's system is very much set to rip people off and make ceo's rich off people not getting what they are paying for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:33AM (#29347075)

    I am working on a project along similar lines. Bringing software and version control practices to creating legislation. You can read a bit about it here.


    and see a site in progress here http://opensourcecountry.org/

  • by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:48AM (#29347177)

    It would be interesting if there was a structured legislation language.


    All terms and covered individuals and entities defined up front.

    Specific sections that spell out standard considerations

    Some kind of enforcement mechanism that wouldn't allow for confusion.

    Example sections

    Definitions: A list of all terms and their definitions.
    Requirements: Something that must be done
    Prohibitions: Something that can't be done
    Funding: How it will be paid for.
    Penalties: If any, punishments for violating provisions of the law.

    I could see a complete class library, defining the government, that would be used to build the text of the legislation

    See what great ideas you can come up with when you are four bottles into your third six-pack?

  • Re:A troll? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bkpark (1253468) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:04AM (#29347273) Homepage

    I suspect that the author has an agenda, of trashing the legislation. He also makes a rather fundamental misunderstanding, in his haste to criticize HR 3200. The 'spaghetti coding' is because he isn't looking at the source program itself, what he is looking at is a diff, between the existing regulation and the proposed amended regulation. That is a rather critical difference that invalidates 90% of his analysis.

    Imagine a revision control system where all you could look at were diffs, and never a source code with the diffs applied to them. Would you use such a revision control system? Would you use such a revision control system to write a complex piece of software?

    And yet, that is the how the legislative process works.

    I believe you have an agenda, that of supporting this controversial legislation, which prevents you from seeing the downfall of these unsavory practices. Imagine you have a diff of some program 1100 pages long. Would you be so hasty to apply to the existing source code and put it out to production in less than 7 months (or less!) as the legislators in D.C. tried to do?

    Unless you could point out an authoritative system where you can see the existing "legal program" with all the diffs applied to the existing regulation and laws, then the author's critique of the legislation of "spaghetti coding" is valid. After all, what is considered to be "source code" is the form of the program in which the program writers prefer to work in—if the legislators prefer to work with diffs as a primary means of modifying and changing the "legal program", then the diffs are the source code. Think of the existing regulation and laws not as the original source code to which a diff is applied ... but as the system libraries and such which get to be used by the new "legal program".

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:23AM (#29347365)
    He neglects to mention that neither the President of Congress have Constitutional authorization to legislate health care for private individuals, or to form National health care organizations.

    To compare with software, that would be rather like the software engineers deciding what features are going to go into the software (and getting paid for it), against the explicit instructions of the customer.
  • Re:Better Title: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bfwebster (90513) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:40AM (#29347467) Homepage

    I've testified before Congress three times and have provided private technology briefings to US House and Senate staff members working on legislation, so I do have some experience with how legislation works [brucefwebster.com]. I've also worked with state legislators on technology-related legislation.

    Not all legislation is like HR 3200, but that doesn't obviate my arguments one way or the other. I fully agree that a lot of legislation is like HR 3200, which is why we have a lot of the mess we do. Had I written this post several years ago, I could have (and probably would have) applied the same analysis to the Patriot Act or the effort to create the Department of Homeland Security (both of which I had and have serious qualms about).

    Having done large scale systems evaluation and design for many years, I am a firm believer in Gall's Law: the only way to create a large, complex system that works is to evolve it from a small, simple system that works. The majority of large-scale system re-engineering efforts fail, are crippled, or underperform because they try to skip that step. In my observation, much the same happens with large-scale legislation.

    Finally, I don'twant an argument on health care reform or HR 3200 at my website. What I'd like is thoughtful feedback on the general concept (legislation as systems architecture) from people who actually know what they're talking about. ..bruce..

    P.S. A good book to read would be The Art of Systems Architecting (2nd ed) by Maier and Rechtin. They treat systems architecting as spanning many disciplines, including social systems (Chapter 5).

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:16AM (#29347993) Homepage

    I'm European (Dutch to be exact).

    Could an American please explain to me why the majority of USA seems to oppose public healthcare?

    I don't mean to say that public healthcare is a perfect system --there is no such thing as a perfect system-- but it sure as hell beats private healthcare on just about every point.

    Sometimes it seems the US hates "socialism" so much that they reverted to "asocialism".

  • by Kirijini (214824) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .inijirik.> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:12AM (#29348335)

    Take a look at the Copyright Act of 1976 [copyright.gov]. You'll be astonished to discover that:
    -it starts with definitions
    -then it describes the scope and subject matter of copyright
    -next, limitations on that scope/subject matter
    -various features of ownership of copyright (trsanfer, duration, notice, etc.)
    -infringement and penalties
    -specific provisions for specific situations

    In other words, it proceeds in the orderly way you think legislation ought to. The same is true for many pieces of legislation, although this is less true in the US* than in most places around the world**. You should try actually reading a title in the US code sometime - not a bill (as the author of this article did) or statute, which are very different things from the "compiled" law of the US code.

    *The United States, along with the UK, Australia, etc. (Common law countries), tends to have a haphazardly organized set of statutes - Largely because (I would argue; certainly there are other explanations) judges develop most law. They work the kinks out of newly passed statutes, adapt the law to new situations, develop working rules or guidelines for how the law ought to be applied, and judges have a strong dominion over the traditional, doctrinal areas of "private" law - contracts, torts, property, etc. The legislature often works with (or against) the judiciary when it develops law - frequently incorporating judge-made law as the foundation for a new statute, or, enacting statutes to overturn judge-made law it doesn't like. Thus, our "activist" judiciary (which can made binding law all on its own) leads to the legislature enacting piecemeal statutes.

    **Most other nations have a "civil law" system which (this is a broad, oversimplification) precludes judge-made law. The legislature does more than enact piecemeal statutes; they adopt "codes," which are, or ought to be, large, comprehensive, all-encompassing embodiments of the law of a general topic (like criminal law). You would like these. They're supposed to be methodologically designed, with an internal logical structure. Incidentally, law services in civil-law countries are a lot cheaper than in the US.

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@nosPAM.beau.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:45AM (#29348523)

    > Under no variation of our language would forming a nationwide health care
    > organization be neither "general Welfare" nor "Commerce among the several states."

    Another user already took your argument apart pretty good, but there is a much simpler argument that I'd bet money neither you or any other poster will even attempt to rebut.

    Consider the time of the founding of our Republic and the writing of the new Constitution. They were careful to enumerate each and every power they wanted the Federal government to possess. After presenting their work to the nation they were assailed for giving the Federal government too much power, many detractors even using the same commerce and general welfare clauses cited in modern times. The authors (especially Publius's three incarnations) went into great detail explaining how they had done no such thing, that they had defined a carefully limited role for the new government and that no other powers assumed by it would be legitimate and after all, no law could prevent a tyranny from usurping power. Their arguments were found wanting and a Bill of Rights was added to make explicit what the authors believed was the inherent limits on the growth of the Federal government, especially Amendments 9 and 10.

    So Question #1. Do you (you as either you or any other progressive brave enough to enter the fray) find a flaw with the brief history I just outlined?

    Assuming the answer to #1 is no, we are lead to Question #2. What the heck was the reasoning behind all the fuss with carefully debating (for months) and codifying a detailed enumerated list of powers and then adding two amendments to make doubly certain the intent of the founders to limit the powers of the nation government? The current progressive 'interpretation' of the general welfare and commerce clauses are broad enough to be blank checks, so if that was really the intent why bother with anything else? The whole damned thing could have been shortened a lot if they just left the bits about the organization of the three branches and then just gave Congress unlimited power to secure the general welfare any way they saw fit. So explain why neither common sense nor English literacy are the right way to read the constitution.

    To bring this more on topic, your argument would be roughly equal to this. A detailed spec is created for a custom software job, it begins by explaining the intended business goal the new system must meet and then it soecifies in broad outlines the requirements and a few details, say a requirement for POSIX and some realtime response requirements. Then after the consultants have agreed and signed the contracts, etc. they eventually deliver some .NET horror that meets none of the requirements but the consultants argue they should be paid because it should sorta deliver the intended goals specified... too bad it runs too slow to actually be put into service and the inability to interface it to your other systems (.NET), you should have declared those interactions. But of course the POSIX requirement was expected to make interoperability assumed. Point being you can't just read the descriptive text and ignore the pesky implementation details.

  • Re:Debug law (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Exception Duck (1524809) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:54AM (#29348563) Homepage Journal

    I was thinking some sort of actual code the legislation would be put into, so you could try to speed up this process.

    something like

    if(!patient.insured && patient.dying)



    and of course much more complex as cases call for.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:37AM (#29349733) Homepage

    I'm going to have to dismiss the entire analogy as false due to stretching the premises. Software, in its fundamental sense, is a specific set of instructions designed to make a machine respond precisely, purportedly to accomplish some specified machine-driven task. There is no corresponding requirement for legislation to control the behavior of human action. In fact, according to Blackstone's "Commentaries", law is supposed to define what persons may NOT do. I can see where confusing the two viewpoints might lead us into the quagmire.

    That is certainly a major oversimplification. Laws that prohibit murder might fall into that category, but anything delegating authority for example is not. Anything that establishes any kind of procedure like say rules of evidence contains both dos and don'ts, not just don'ts. Things like building codes are also to a large degree both dos and don'ts. Same goes for licenses to operate, whether as a doctor or ham radio amateur often describe requirements. Pretty much everything related to taxes is about what you must declare, it certainly defaults to that and even if you're not paying taxes they want to check the eligibility of that.

    Actually, in software it's actually better to compare it to bounds checking and application logic. ALTER SYSTEM us_healthcare ADD CHECK ( healthcare >= inimum_healthcare ) etc. than as the software executing something.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:06AM (#29349985) Homepage Journal

    I think it's an unwillingness to admit that their system isn't the best. You know the mentality - Number one! Number one!

    Even free-market advocates think it's broken. [economist.com]

  • by dentin (2175) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:26PM (#29353639) Homepage

    I can explain very succinctly why I, as an American, oppose public health care, wheras you may not. First, let me explain my position:

    1) The cost of health care is infinite.

    In other words, there are ailments and diseases which no amount of money can cure. We could consume every single dollar produced by the planet simply giving one small country the best health care possible, and people in that country would still die from uncurable diseases.

    The result of 1) is that health care must be rationed. This is the case regardless of which system is installed; therefore, when we talk about health care systems, the real question we are asking is, 'how should the limited health care budget be spent'.

    2) Individuals are not the same, and some are worth substantially more than others.

    How do you measure the value of an individual? Quite frankly, I would measure value using money, since health care is paid for with money, and people with more money generally contribute more to the total health care funding than those without.

    3) When it comes to allocating a limited resource, an omniscient oracle will give the optimum result. The next most efficient way is using a properly regulated market.

    In short, markets are the best way to distribute the money pool. Having a centralized government do it is less efficient than a proper market.

    So there we go. Healthcare resources are limited, not everyone deserves the same level of health care, and if the government is involved there will be unnecessary inefficiency. That's why I'm opposed to it.

    That said, I recognize the need for government support for some fraction of the population (let's try to keep it below 10% please), and I absolutely see the need for reform in tax laws, drug approval processes, and pricing models in health care.

    Quite frankly, one of the things I'd most like to see is a requirement for 'posted pricing' for health care providers: the price for a service is posted publicly at least one month in advance, and that is the price for all payers, whether homeless bum or insurance company.

    The reason I think this is important has to do with recent billing information I've been getting from my 'insurance' company. The billed price for a service is typically ten to 15 times (!) the amount paid by the insurance company, due to hardball agreements negotiated by the respective companies. Just to be clear on this, if I were to pay the billed amount, I would pay for example 100 USD. My insurance company would pay, for example, 8 USD. This is rate seem consistent across the board for nearly all services.

    With an imbalance that great, it seems to me like a good idea to slap down an isolation barrier between the two. Something funky is definitely going on.

  • by Omestes (471991) <omestes@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:39PM (#29357801) Homepage Journal

    2) Individuals are not the same, and some are worth substantially more than others.

    How do you measure the value of an individual? Quite frankly, I would measure value using money, since health care is paid for with money, and people with more money generally contribute more to the total health care funding than those without.

    Huh? Your confusing two concepts, monetiary worth, and human worth. Money has nothing to do with the former, and these terms are not connected or related in any way. I know a lot of worthless people worth a whole bunch, and a whole bunch of worthy people worth very little. All having a ton of money means is that your better at acquiring money, which really means squat in the grand scheme of things.

    To be completely clear, I cannot actually judge the worth of any individual, and neither can you, especially with such a arbitrary metric as how much money someone managed to stick in their mattress over their life. Is Paris Hilton worth more than some dirt farmer in Appalachia? What about Bernie Madoff? I'd put individual worth more in the area of "what have you done to enrich the lives of others, and have a positive long term influence on society" over, "how have you treated people like objects to increase the size of your coffers".

We don't really understand it, so we'll give it to the programmers.