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Sublime to Absurd: The HealthCare.gov Debate, From Procurement Reform to Cats and Jon Stewart

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, October 23 2013

Many commentators in the past few days have criticized the media coverage of Healthcare.gov's launch problems, highlighting what they see as a lack of technical understanding. Meanwhile, the issue has sparked a complex, passionate discussion among some experts on Twitter debating the root of the problems, comparisons with the Obama campaign's Narwhal system, the difference between campaign and government technology, the inherent flaws in the procurement process and how to improve government technology. Three of the key figures in the ongoing Twitter debate, storified below, over the past few days were Clay Johnson, technologist, founder of Blue State Digital and a 2012 Presidential Innovation Fellow, writer and consultant Clay Shirky, and Harper Reed, CTO of Obama's 2012 election campaign.

While among them and others the discussion has been a wonky, almost philosophical conversation about the role of technology and government, rooted in their experiences, Rep. Darrell Issa Wednesday opted for a more sensational approach when he decided to cite Johnson's Oct. 7 blog post calling the contractors "sloppy" to create "8 Cats Who Called 1-800-ObamaCare but Still Couldn’t Get Healthcare."

There has also been some discussion of Jon Stewart's mocking of the website's troubles, with the Washington Post and the National Journal suggesting that the criticism could harm the perception of the health care program's roll-out among young viewers and fans, and that President Obama should appear on the show to do damage control.

But at least some of his loyal viewers who support the health care law are frustrated by his criticism, airing those thoughts on the Daily Show thread of the TV discussion forum site Television Without Pity. "I called my parents tonight and I interrupted their watching of a "Daily Show" clip online. These are people who NEVER watch TDS. Naturally, they were watching because they had heard Jon was making fun of Obamacare. That sort of made me sad, but my husband and I are both computer professionals and Obama fans and the whole thing just bums us out," user loudfan wrote. "I don't think Jon has any idea how much he hurt the cause and, consequently, how much harm he did to millions of poor people. It's going to take me a long time to get over what he's done," wrote shabbieshok. " I can handle disagreeing with Jon but I feel like he's lost his integrity. That's not sitting well with me," added marceline.

"I have to say that I am mystified why Jon is being so harsh on this Obamacare website thing. I feel fairly confident that the glitches are not across the board because I was able to log on last week and prowl around looking into what Obamacare has to offer. At one point I ended up back at the California part of it because I live in California, which was exactly what it was supposed to do," wrote SDcat2009. "I feel like Jon is so mad that it's not the system he would prefer that he's going to bash this without really thinking about it for two minutes....I have never been so disappointed with the Daily Show as was last night. BE BETTER Jon."

While Andy Borowitz has headlined that "Nation That Waited Decades to Pass Health Care Infuriated by Slow Web Site" and suggested that Edward Snowden could fix the site, Matt Yglesias wrote for Slate that uproar over the technical problems has more to do with 21st Century expectations than the law itself. "The reason the Affordable Care Act is supposed to feature great websites is because the Internet exists in 2013, so we expect things to have websites, but it's not like the underlying idea of bringing a Bismarckian health insurance system to the United States depends in some conceptual way on the website. Bismarck did it in 1883!"

The current German system, built on the one established by Bismarck, offering a universal multi-payer health care system, does not have any kind of central government web presence. The leading German-language Google result for "health insurance" is a simple informational page established by the European representation of the central German social insurance associations. Registration can take place online with the individual statutory insurance funds.