The right comparison to healthcare.gov

Rosslyn Smith
People are using the wrong private sector systems to compare with healthcare.gov.  The complexity, the security issues, as well as an interface with government data bases, are routine issues for the Tax Preparation Software companies.  Amazon doesn't need your Social Security number and your date of birth.  Nor does Amazon have to interface with other federal government data bases.  Turbo Tax does.  All the consumer tax prep software programs do because they all offer e-filing.

HealthCare.gov has two difficult issues. One is the very complexity of the law itself.  The other is that the site needs to interface with more than one existing federal government data base.  The federal government's electronic data systems define terms like  klutzy and klunky.  The Social Security Administration and the IRS were among the first large scale users of computerized data retention.  The problem is that as computer hardware and programming languages changed since the first computers were developed these agencies modify existing programs instead of starting over.  Some experts think there is probably code in these systems twice as old as some of the programmers trying to make healthcare.gov function.

The private sector web sites that people use which face similar complexity, security and interface issues are the Tax Preparation Software providers.  The federal tax code is highly complex.  Taxpayers must provide sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit card information and even a user's bank account for people who want to direct deposit a refund or pay via EFT.  These programs also need to take into account the laws of the 50 states. Finally, because these providers offer electronic filing options their software also has to interface with the IRS system and with the states' Departments of Revenue.  

An increasing number of taxpayers are comfortable using these systems to self-prepare and file personal and small business income tax returns. Such returns contain information identity thieves would love to obtain.

All of this means the issue with healthcare.gov is more the inefficiency of the administration than the complexity of the task.  The private sector had handled this well, without spending anywhere near a billion dollars.

People are using the wrong private sector systems to compare with healthcare.gov.  The complexity, the security issues, as well as an interface with government data bases, are routine issues for the Tax Preparation Software companies.  Amazon doesn't need your Social Security number and your date of birth.  Nor does Amazon have to interface with other federal government data bases.  Turbo Tax does.  All the consumer tax prep software programs do because they all offer e-filing.

HealthCare.gov has two difficult issues. One is the very complexity of the law itself.  The other is that the site needs to interface with more than one existing federal government data base.  The federal government's electronic data systems define terms like  klutzy and klunky.  The Social Security Administration and the IRS were among the first large scale users of computerized data retention.  The problem is that as computer hardware and programming languages changed since the first computers were developed these agencies modify existing programs instead of starting over.  Some experts think there is probably code in these systems twice as old as some of the programmers trying to make healthcare.gov function.

The private sector web sites that people use which face similar complexity, security and interface issues are the Tax Preparation Software providers.  The federal tax code is highly complex.  Taxpayers must provide sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit card information and even a user's bank account for people who want to direct deposit a refund or pay via EFT.  These programs also need to take into account the laws of the 50 states. Finally, because these providers offer electronic filing options their software also has to interface with the IRS system and with the states' Departments of Revenue.  

An increasing number of taxpayers are comfortable using these systems to self-prepare and file personal and small business income tax returns. Such returns contain information identity thieves would love to obtain.

All of this means the issue with healthcare.gov is more the inefficiency of the administration than the complexity of the task.  The private sector had handled this well, without spending anywhere near a billion dollars.