Will Obamacare pay benefits to a pregnant man?

Jack Kemp
When I was considering taking computer programming courses in the very early 1980s, I went to a short introductory evening course with other people looking to enter the field. One person in the class was a woman accountant who had not yet worked in programming but was employed by a custom software firm that wrote the Medicaid programs for New York City. She taught the rest of us what being "the lowest bidder" involves.

This accountant's company wanted to test their new version of Medicaid software and gave blank application forms (perhaps similar to machine graded school tests) to their non-programming staff to fill out with "any error they could think up" in order to test the veracity of their latest project before it was installed on a government computer.

On a whim, the lady accountant came up with a very unusual test. She filled out an application to pay maternity benefits (there were no federal paternity benefits in those years) for a pregnant man. Much to the embarrassment of the programmers, their "expertly written custom" program was ready to pay for a male in such a condition because the lowest bidder's programmers did not create a verisimilitude test to exclude that biological possibility (hermaphrodites were perhaps unfairly excluded). Although the coders knew the Facts of Life, they forgot that their computer did not. Hopefully, the program also included a verisimilitude test to prevent payment of benefits for someone who filed a claim on "February 32nd." Getting back to the original problem, the programmers also couldn't figure out some other basic everyday reasons to write code to screen out pregnant man applications, i.e., errors made by non-English speakers (and writers) and also outright illiterate applicants filling out forms incorrectly.

Of course, some low information voters might think that applying to pay benefits to a pregnant man was a creative way to have the computer system initiate paternity benefits without the need for Congress and the President to create a new 2000 page law to cover that, such as Obamacare. And in a country where people call 911 multiple times if they can't get a pizza delivered, the idea of someone attempting to change the meaning of words - as well as the law - via a government medical claims form that acts as their own personal Executive Order is not that far-fetched.

My more recent visit to The Windy City also included a preview of the type of program design that later was included at the Obamacare website. In 2012 I traveled to Chicago's O'Hare airport and rented a car. At the end of my trip, I drove back to O'Hare and came off of an automated toll road at the airport entrance that required me to come up with - as best I recall - somewhere around $1.50 or more in quarters to throw in the hopper - with no attendant to make change. A  sign said I'd pay a fine of a lot more for running the toll gate without paying and there was a camera there that took a photo of my rental car's license plate. I had arrived a bit early and just stood there not knowing what to do, waving a car or two past me, people who probably had a local EZ-Pass electronic payment card. Finally, I realized I had to go into the airport immediately to return the rental car within the 24 hour grace period. The whole situation - like the Obamacare website - was like Star Trek's Starfleet Academy Kobayashi Maru test where there was no realistic way to solve the problem. 

When I returned the car, I asked a rental company staff person for help and they gave me a website address where I could pay the toll (it was not listed on the signage at the automated toll booth). When I got home, I went online and paid the City of Chicago more than if I had had the quarters handy to throw into the toll booth hopper. It wasn't much more money than the listed fee and I believe this system works this way because a number of first time out-of-town tourists drive rental cars back to the airport and, like myself, wind up having to pay more online.

This is a real world example of a payment system designed "the Chicago Way." Some tourists, of course, have iPhones or Droid phones and could have paid online at or near the tollbooth if the website were known to them at the time they reached the booth's signage. Even if the fee was a bit higher, they at least would have the peace of mind knowing immediately that they weren't entering into a petty bureaucratic mess.

The pregnant man problem and the O'Hare toll booth problem could be fixed quickly, if they haven't been already. But the Obamacare website problems might require a wait until the real Starfleet Academy accepts their first cadets. But the future equivalents of Captain Kirk - and William Shatner, the Priceline spokesman - will not be offering people the choice of naming their own price.


When I was considering taking computer programming courses in the very early 1980s, I went to a short introductory evening course with other people looking to enter the field. One person in the class was a woman accountant who had not yet worked in programming but was employed by a custom software firm that wrote the Medicaid programs for New York City. She taught the rest of us what being "the lowest bidder" involves.

This accountant's company wanted to test their new version of Medicaid software and gave blank application forms (perhaps similar to machine graded school tests) to their non-programming staff to fill out with "any error they could think up" in order to test the veracity of their latest project before it was installed on a government computer.

On a whim, the lady accountant came up with a very unusual test. She filled out an application to pay maternity benefits (there were no federal paternity benefits in those years) for a pregnant man. Much to the embarrassment of the programmers, their "expertly written custom" program was ready to pay for a male in such a condition because the lowest bidder's programmers did not create a verisimilitude test to exclude that biological possibility (hermaphrodites were perhaps unfairly excluded). Although the coders knew the Facts of Life, they forgot that their computer did not. Hopefully, the program also included a verisimilitude test to prevent payment of benefits for someone who filed a claim on "February 32nd." Getting back to the original problem, the programmers also couldn't figure out some other basic everyday reasons to write code to screen out pregnant man applications, i.e., errors made by non-English speakers (and writers) and also outright illiterate applicants filling out forms incorrectly.

Of course, some low information voters might think that applying to pay benefits to a pregnant man was a creative way to have the computer system initiate paternity benefits without the need for Congress and the President to create a new 2000 page law to cover that, such as Obamacare. And in a country where people call 911 multiple times if they can't get a pizza delivered, the idea of someone attempting to change the meaning of words - as well as the law - via a government medical claims form that acts as their own personal Executive Order is not that far-fetched.

My more recent visit to The Windy City also included a preview of the type of program design that later was included at the Obamacare website. In 2012 I traveled to Chicago's O'Hare airport and rented a car. At the end of my trip, I drove back to O'Hare and came off of an automated toll road at the airport entrance that required me to come up with - as best I recall - somewhere around $1.50 or more in quarters to throw in the hopper - with no attendant to make change. A  sign said I'd pay a fine of a lot more for running the toll gate without paying and there was a camera there that took a photo of my rental car's license plate. I had arrived a bit early and just stood there not knowing what to do, waving a car or two past me, people who probably had a local EZ-Pass electronic payment card. Finally, I realized I had to go into the airport immediately to return the rental car within the 24 hour grace period. The whole situation - like the Obamacare website - was like Star Trek's Starfleet Academy Kobayashi Maru test where there was no realistic way to solve the problem. 

When I returned the car, I asked a rental company staff person for help and they gave me a website address where I could pay the toll (it was not listed on the signage at the automated toll booth). When I got home, I went online and paid the City of Chicago more than if I had had the quarters handy to throw into the toll booth hopper. It wasn't much more money than the listed fee and I believe this system works this way because a number of first time out-of-town tourists drive rental cars back to the airport and, like myself, wind up having to pay more online.

This is a real world example of a payment system designed "the Chicago Way." Some tourists, of course, have iPhones or Droid phones and could have paid online at or near the tollbooth if the website were known to them at the time they reached the booth's signage. Even if the fee was a bit higher, they at least would have the peace of mind knowing immediately that they weren't entering into a petty bureaucratic mess.

The pregnant man problem and the O'Hare toll booth problem could be fixed quickly, if they haven't been already. But the Obamacare website problems might require a wait until the real Starfleet Academy accepts their first cadets. But the future equivalents of Captain Kirk - and William Shatner, the Priceline spokesman - will not be offering people the choice of naming their own price.