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Jeffrey Zients Appointed To Fix Healthcare.gov 250

Posted by Soulskill
from the fall-man-spotted dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news that the Obama administration has appointed Jeffrey Zients to lead the effort to revamp Healthcare.gov after its trouble rollout earlier this month. Zients said, "By the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users." Obama created a position for Zients within the government in 2009, when he was made the OMB's Chief Performance Officer. The purpose of his position was to analyze and streamline the government's budget concerns. "Healthcare.gov covers people in the 36 states that declined to run their own health-insurance exchanges. About 700,000 applications have been begun nationwide, and half of them have come in through the website. The White House aims to have 7M uninsured Americans covered by the scheme by the end of March." Zients's appointment came after a contentious House Committee hearing about the healthcare website, in which many were blamed and few took responsibility. The government also said that contractor Quality Software Services Inc., a subsidiary of UnitedHealth group, would "oversee the entire operation" of Healthcare.gov. QSSI has already done work on the website, building the pipeline that transfers data between the insurance exchanges and the federal agencies.
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Jeffrey Zients Appointed To Fix Healthcare.gov

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  • End of November (Score:5, Informative)

    by bondsbw (888959) on Friday October 25, 2013 @06:51PM (#45240935)

    Sounds like a lot of mythical man-months to me.

    • by ark1 (873448) on Friday October 25, 2013 @07:19PM (#45241161)
      He didn't mentioned which year.
    • Re:End of November (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bite The Pillow (3087109) on Friday October 25, 2013 @07:32PM (#45241273)

      Not really. It sounds like a position that should have been filled from the beginning is just now getting filled.

      Until now, the Medicare agency, led by Marilyn B. Tavenner, was the quarterback, or system integrator, trying to coordinate the work of dozens of contractors.

      I'm sure Medicare has things to do other than deal with this mess that wasn't even being written until spring. How they got to that point is a discussion we already had, I'm just pointing out that Medicare is probably not the best choice for driving the technology/solution angle here.

      The mythical man month does not directly cover the case of being under-manned until a month after release, then bringing staffing up to where it should be. And certainly if that is the entirety of your contribution, I have to assume you mean the most recognized portions of the concept.

      More on point is the difficulty of debugging a live system and making changes that don't cascade to cause more problems, which I don't see happening by the end of November. But an unrealistic schedule, again, is not the mythical man month.

      • Not really. It sounds like a position that should have been filled from the beginning is just now getting filled.

        The mythical man month does not directly cover the case of being under-manned until a month after release, then bringing staffing up to where it should be. And certainly if that is the entirety of your contribution, I have to assume you mean the most recognized portions of the concept.

        Under-manned because they hired one more person? I haven't seen any evidence they were understaffed or under-manned. And someone I'm skeptical that a CEO guy with a BS in Political Science and no Software Engineering background is the key to turning this around.

      • by bondsbw (888959)

        The mythical man month does not directly cover the case of being under-manned until a month after release, then bringing staffing up to where it should be.

        The primary message of The Mythical Man-Month is that adding people to a late project, counterintuitively, makes it finish later. I'd say that putting out an unfinished project, because you were "under-manned until a month after release", qualifies as late.

        But an unrealistic schedule, again, is not the mythical man month.

        I'm sorry, that's just wrong. The schedule has everything to do with it. The term "late" establishes that the schedule was unrealistic given all other conditions.

        Now I would agree that those other conditions did not work in favor of meeting the schedul

  • I am surprised that anyone got approved for such a post

    I take it this appointment did not require a joint Democrat/Republican confirmation?

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      I am surprised that anyone got approved for such a post

      I take it this appointment did not require a joint Democrat/Republican confirmation?

      As surprised as when Obamanation was elected?
      It required a Big Pharma/Healthcare Insurance sector approval with a CONgressional rubber stamp.

    • He was confirmed as Chief Performance Officer back in 2009. All Obama has to do to give him this gig is re-write the job description.

      And he doesn't have to re-write much because the CPO is supposed look at government operations (ie: this clusterfuck) and figure out how to make work better. Fixing specific projects probably wasn't what the Senate had in mind when it confirmed him, but they probably won't complain. The GOP will figure he won't do it, and they'll want Obama to have some more rope to hang himse

    • Right, read your Constitution. Advise and consent is for Cabinet posts, not every freakin' job in the Govt.
      • Actually, the "advise and consent" provision is for every government job that the Constitution does not specifically specify how it is assigned, unless Congress has specifically invested some other entity with the power to appoint someone to the role without their involvement. Basically, whenever the Administration creates a new category of job, they either need to get the "advice and consent" of the Senate, or they need to get Congress to pass a law saying that they do not need such advice and consent for
  • Is this unusual for the insurance industry? I deal with a large health insurance company whose web site sucks. It is impossible to find any useful information on it. There is no logical way to search for a doctor. None of the default choices apply to the client type( How many geriatric patents need to see a prenatal specialist?) There is NO way to contact anyone and their customer service isn't. I've been fighting this site for four years and they still haven't gotten it fixed.
    • Don't know about the industry, but it is unusual for Exchanges. Massachusetts has run fine for years. Cali and New York State went live on Oct. 1 with relatively few problems.

      In Obama's defense he was not actually supposed to make any Exchanges. The people who were supposed to do that were the states, but a bunch of states bailed and the backup plan became the plan. Which meant a $1 Billion budget line that was basically an Oh Fuck option became the Exchange for something like a third of the country, and Ob

  • by mattb47 (85083) on Friday October 25, 2013 @06:58PM (#45241003)

    There are more lines of code in Healthcare.gov (500m!) than Google Chrome, the Linux kernel, XP, Facebook, Mac OS, and the Debian 5 packages combined:

    http://www.alexmarchant.com/blog/2013/10/22/healthcare-dot-gov-lines-of-code-comparison.html [alexmarchant.com]

    Windows 8 supposed has 80m lines of code:
    http://money.cnn.com/2013/10/23/technology/obamacare-website-fix/ [cnn.com]

    It would take a miracle of computing programming and program management that no governmental program has ever accomplished to get this epic cluster f*ck fixed in 2-3 months.

    If they actually want it to work, it should be taken out behind the shed, shot in the head, hung, drawn, quartered, burned, and the ashes scattered to the four winds. And then everyone starts over. And then take 2 years (minimum) to recode it again with an almost entirely new team. But that's not going to happen. They're going to try and band-aid it, and it won't work.

    So things are going to get interesting. It's unfixable in a politically acceptable way for the Democrats and the Obama administration.

    • by OzPeter (195038)

      They're going to try and band-aid it, and it won't work.

      But the boss has already promised his customers that it would be ready by the end of November.

      • by fche (36607) on Friday October 25, 2013 @07:29PM (#45241255)

        They aren't customers if they're forced to buy.

    • by cmdr_tofu (826352) on Friday October 25, 2013 @07:49PM (#45241399) Homepage

      There are more lines of code in Healthcare.gov (500m!) than Google Chrome, the Linux kernel, XP, Facebook, Mac OS, and the Debian 5 packages combined:

      http://www.alexmarchant.com/blog/2013/10/22/healthcare-dot-gov-lines-of-code-comparison.html [alexmarchant.com]

      Alexmarchant cites a NYT article [nytimes.com] in which the author wrote:
      "According to one specialist, the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code. By comparison, a large bank’s computer system is typically about one-fifth that size."

      I, for one, find this claim difficult to believe, especially when the actual source cited is "one specialist" who remains nameless.

      • how many lines of code did the Jurassic Park UNIX system have?

      • Especially because he said 'the website'. Imagine counting every line of HTML in wikipedia as a 'line of code'.

        Things get pretty big pretty fast when you do it that way.

    • by Entropius (188861)

      What I'm wondering: how did they spend 600 million bucks on this?

      I bought health insurance from an "exchange" a few years ago; I was between jobs and wanted gap coverage. I went to a website, ran a search, picked a plan, and enrolled -- it was pretty simple. The website didn't look that complicated, and I'm sure it didn't cost $600M or even $60M (and it worked). Now, maybe the government wants to do something a little more complicated, but $600M is roughly 10,000 developers' salaries for a year. What were t

      • But.. maybe you don't actually get to pick which two, and they tried anyway.

      • $600 million is not a lot in the world of government contracting. There are several models of Jet in the Air Force that cost that much. Moreover this was a really big job. They need enough servers to complete 15 million orders, they need to talk to the IRS (mostly for income data), several other agencies, fairly sophisticated GIS systems (many plans aren't available in all counties), and insurance company computer systems.

        Your little exchange probably had to handle talking to the insurer's computers, but it

      • by svendog (896213)
        They didn't spend $600m on the website. That figure comes from an open service contract with CGI that predates the ACA by a considerable amount of time. The amount of the contract spent on developing the healthcare.gov site is estimated to be between $70m - $125m; still not cheap, but definitely not on the order of half a billion dollars.
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      There are more lines of code in Healthcare.gov (500m!) than Google Chrome, the Linux kernel, XP, Facebook, Mac OS, and the Debian 5 packages combined:

      You're looking at the wrong metric, because not all of those 500m lines of code have to work perfectly before the site is minimally usable.

      The correct metric to look at would be the number of lines of code that are (a) currently broken, (b) actually executed in the common cases, and (c) cause painful or fatal consequences to the process. Those are the parts that actually need to be fixed sooner than later, and it's likely that that number is significantly smaller than 500m.

      I've worked on a number of projec

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Well, if it's true, then one of the problems with the site is that there's too many lines of code. (Even if, as someone suggested, you are counting every line between two html tags as a line of code.)

      • More importantly this is not inventing the Apollo Program. California's Exchange is serving 10% of the country's population fine. Build six of those and Obama's golden.

        I doubt it can actually be done in 5 weeks, but in theory they should have the hardware to do it (that $600 million went somewhere), so installing the right software could do the trick.

    • You do realize that California and Massachusetts have Exchanges that work?

      Which means that an awful lot of this code can be brought in from those states.

    • Why anyone would believe that number from the NY Times is beyond me.

      If you have any experience with even medium sized software projects, you will realize it's a typo. They started coding this spring, of 2013, I doubt they even have 5 million lines. Maybe 500,000.
  • by Bill Dimm (463823) on Friday October 25, 2013 @07:12PM (#45241107) Homepage

    Zients said, "By the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."

    Yeah,November of which year?

    • November of last year. Jeffry and Captain Kirk use the slingshot effect to send the Enterprise back in time to rework the website with an M-5 multitronic unit.
      • by trout007 (975317)

        I used that in a meeting once when management asked how we can get the project finished by the arbitrary deadline. I said we could build a time machine. The great part is that it doesn't matter when we finish that project because all of the other ones will be on time.

        That reminds me of a design review I was in. The "safety" engineer asked me what the backup was if a primary structure failed. I said it's a primary structure it's designed not to fail. They responded "What if it magically fails?". I said "We r

    • I believe you misspelled century
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At some point they will have spent enough time and money to fix the nice shiny bauble of a web site..... and they will trumpet their success...... but this will be used to distract from the fact that they will NOT undo:

    1. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have already been thrown off their insurance (so much for "If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance, PERIOD." - Barack Obama).

    2. The fact that millions will have lost their doctors both by losing their insurance and also by havi

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NicBenjamin (2124018)

      You do realize your contradictions contradict themselves? If you don't have to buy until you get sick then young people aren't forced to buy either. What's really going on is there's a tax fine if you don't buy, so both you and your young people can choose between being uninsured (and paying the fine), or being insured.

      If your first two points were actually valid, as opposed to conservatives talking themselves into a lather, one would expect ObamaCare's poll numbers to be dropping. They aren't.

      • , one would expect ObamaCare's poll numbers to be dropping. They aren't.

        This is a fascinating point. His approval rating is actually increasing. Maybe most people aren't aware of how bad the situation i yet.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by localman (111171)

          Or maybe... just maybe... it's because it's not as bad as you think.

          Of course it's much easier to assume everyone else is wrong than to question your beliefs.

        • , one would expect ObamaCare's poll numbers to be dropping. They aren't.

          This is a fascinating point. His approval rating is actually increasing. Maybe most people aren't aware of how bad the situation i yet.

          My best guess on Obama's number is pretty simple:
          People don't actually care about ObamaCare that much. It's a change to health insurance, which worries them, and Republicans they trust just enough to give 48% of their votes have been bitching about it for years, but it hasn't actually hurt them (or anyone they know) yet.

          OTOH those silly Republicans just shutdown the government to stop it, which did hurt them. According Matty Yglesias a lot of people he met blamed the websites failure on the shutdown, which

  • by Tiger4 (840741) on Friday October 25, 2013 @07:21PM (#45241179)

    Good luck to Zients. He's a good guy and I don't doubt the code can be repaired with enough effort. A lot of effort, maybe, but it can be done.

    But it might not matter. The Los Angeles Times [latimes.com] had a story about how the real code running the show (the legalese in the ACA law) may have a fatal flaw in it. The federal government may not be able to grant subsidies to low income people in the states that did not set up their own exchanges. The law specifically says the states must do it in order for the money to flow. So 36 of the 50 may not be able to get the money. But they are still subject to the penalty for not signing up. This means the people least able to afford insurance get hammered. And since they are treated differently than people in the other 14 states that do have exchanges, you can bet an Equal Protection lawsuit will be quick in coming.

    Federal judge is due to issue the initial ruling soon.

    • I don't doubt the code can be repaired with enough effort. [But] the real code running the show (the legalese in the ACA law) may have a fatal flaw in it

      As you recognized, law too is code [slashdot.org]. Get enough Democrats into state legislatures and they might have a chance of reversing REDMAP [huffingtonpost.com], the RSLC's organized redistricting effort that produced the inkblot-shaped districts [businessinsider.com] that turned a Democratic popular vote into a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which should make it possible to patch this bug in PPACA.

    • And since they are treated differently than people in the other 14 states that do have exchanges, you can bet an Equal Protection lawsuit will be quick in coming.

      Here is the Equal Protection Clause:

      All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

      Note that the boundary of the clause is the State. Different states have different laws all the time. Massachusetts has had statewide healthcare for a long time, and Vermont passed a single-payer healthcare. Oregon has vote-by-mail. Minnesota abolished the death penalty while it remains in the majority of states. Some states have legalized marijuana, while in Pennsylvania you can only buy wine and spirits from state owned shops. Taxes are different, environmental la

      • States rights won't survive gay marriage.

        • by localman (111171)

          States rights survived the civil war. Or maybe you feel they didn't. In either case, that was the point at which we decided the scope of states rights. Gay marriage is nothing compared to that.

      • by Tiger4 (840741)

        1. ACA is Federal law. The fine / tax/ whatever is Federal, imposed on the residents of the states.

        2. You might look a bit further up, to Amendment 16, where it says

        The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

    • Two points:

      1) They have lots of servers, presumably enough for the load. What they don't have is software. California has software that's working. I don't know how easy it will be to port Cali's exchange to the Feds, but I do know this is a lot easier then the media are making it out to be. I will be surprised if they make their November date, but I won't be surprised at they get it done pretty close to that.

      2) The legal argument is BS.

      Even if it wasn't, how long do you think Bobby Jindall will remain Gover

    • Suppose that were true (I don't know) ... who could fix it?

      1) The states by setting up exchanges. I mean, they wouldn't be so spiteful as to punish the poor because they don't like a federal law.
      2) The house by passing legislation that fixes this gap. Representatives from states without exchanges wouldn't want to punish the poor in their states, and most others should also be willing to fix the unescapable slight gaps in large legislation.

      Oh wait ...

  • There, that had to be said. Now, just redirect those healthcare.gov links to the insurance companies, as should have been done in the first place:-)

  • Nightmare (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Friday October 25, 2013 @08:26PM (#45241663) Homepage Journal

    After doing software development in the healthcare field for over a decade, I finally made the wise decision to never work in that industry again. Government is even worse, because the rules the software have to follow change on the whim of elections and the rug is constantly being pulled out from under you. Now this mess? Well it's healthcare taken to the bureaucratic power (h^b). Sounds like a good way to shave 10 years off your life in stress.

    • Re:Nightmare (Score:4, Interesting)

      by localman (111171) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:21AM (#45243459) Homepage

      So here's a serious question... why can so many other countries do it well? They combine healthcare and government and it's fine. So is the US functionally retarded? I don't think we are, but if this is really the undoable task that half this thread implies, what's wrong with us?

  • by superdude72 (322167) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @01:18PM (#45245681)

    Pass single-payer, as we should have done in the first place, and send everyone to medicare.gov.

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