Cover Oregon, Kitzhaber’s crown jewel of heath care, will fail. Here’s the real story of what’s happening and what you can do about it.
Dateline November 14, 2013, Portland Oregon: I spent 5 and half mind numbing hours in the Cover Oregon Board Meeting yesterday. The Cover Oregon web site is a month and a half late, and that schedule is slipping faster than real time, that is, it slips more than a month for a month. This is a true sign there are some very bad things happening inside the project. I have hours and hours of video of some pretty egregious stuff from the meeting, which I may YouTube. Until then I feel compelled to write my opinion on what is happening. I don’t often brag on my credentials, but I am a Software and Systems Engineer with over 20 years experience in information systems development, just so you don’t know I’m not whistling in the woods. Consider this an outside opinion based only what I can see from the perimeter of a black box. My only conclusion would be that after taking a look inside, things would be a helluva lot worse.
1. COVEROREGON.COM WILL FAIL: Despite howls of objections from Rocky King, this project will never finish. In the hours of discussion this project exhibited all the classic characteristics of a “Death March Project” as described by Ed Yourdon in his classic Software Engineering text. Here’s an except. If you are working inside Cover Oregon right now does this sound familiar?
...Projects whose schedules are so compressed, and/or whose budgets, or resource (people) assignments are so constrained, that the only “obvious” way to succeed is for the entire team to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no vacations until the project is finished. While the corporate goal of such projects is to overcome impossible odds and achieve miracles, the personal goal of the project manager and team members often shrinks down to mere survival: keeping one’s job, maintaining some semblance of a relationship with one’s spouse and children, and avoiding a heart attack or ulcer. …
2. THE “SOLUTIONS” BEING OFFERED BY THE DEVELOPER WILL MAKE THINGS WORSE: When it came time for Oracle to speak I listened carefully for true signs that a software project was into the death spiral. No firm metrics were offered for discrepancy reports, or their closure rate. That means the number of problems remaining from the test should be carefully followed and the rate at which the developers are closing problems should be carefully monitored like an EKG. Picture it like you are bailing a boat and removing 5 gallons a minute, and water is coming in at 10 gallons a minute. Right now the project managers seem to have no idea how fast they are sinking. There were also no firm schedules, baseline releases, dependency charts, lists of critical resources required etc. Let’s just say there was a lot of hand waving, and nothing seemed to have changed since the last meeting. But the real death nail comes from Fred Brooks’ classic text “The Mythical Man Month.” The one concrete solution being offered at the table by the Oracle developers was adding more people to the project. A “crack team,” has been brought in. This is a sure sign that things are going to hell in a hand basket. Brook’s Law states quite simply: “Adding more people to a late project makes it later.”
3. IT’S NOT ALL THE DEVELOPER’S FAULT: Back in November 2011, yes two long years ago, Kitzhaber appointed Liz Baxter to the Board which would be overseeing one of the most important, complex real-time systems ever undertaken in Oregon, and perhaps, in US History. One of the most important things to occur during a software development effort is to baseline the requirements. Picture it like the “honey-do” list on your refrigerator for your spouse. It’s Baxter’s job (or her delegate) to guard that list as the subject matter expert. That ensures that number of things on the “To Do” list will not expand infinitely. During the course of the meeting I saw numerous discussions from members at the table of the nature “can the system be changed to do this?” And their were nods from the engineer acquiescing. It’s a sure sign of real problems because you will never finish. Ms. Baxter, should be guarding that concrete list like a pit bull. One could almost excuse this if she showed some sort of competence in her organizational skills. But, Board members came late, left early before key votes, and even appeared to to have possibly nodded off during the proceedings. At one point board members were held up in the hallway for several minutes waiting for hotel staff to find keys to the room. One member Jose Gonzales didn’t see fit to make it to the meeting at all and mysteriously disappeared several times during the teleconference, only to slink out entirely by the end: not with a bang but with a whimper.
4. SCAPEGOATING KING WON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM: The blame meter around the board table was clearly shifting towards King, as the board pressured him to deliver products by the end of next week. Of course the Oregonian is falling right in line. I myself had called on Kitzhaber to do just that in a video I did a few weeks back. Don’t get me wrong it needs to be done. To give you an idea of of King’s management competence , during yesterday’s meeting a member of the board began to discuss the edict that came down from President Obama 5 hours earlier: “You can keep your plan for a year.” You’d think it would lead to hours long conversation on system impacts. Instead, King got up and just left the room. There were times when he appeared befuddled and at no point did he offer a firm schedule. He also emphasized multiple times his approach for software development which was “all or nothing.” This is another death nail in the coffin. Most software engineers know that “spiral development,” using a “build-a-little test a little” approach, gives key stakeholders (like the board members) a warm fuzzy. It also ensures the highest likelihood for success. When the eulogy for Cover Oregon is written King’s decision to go with an “all or nothing” approach for the site could well be reflected on as the time when “the ship was lost.” But again, scapegoating a daft bureaucrat will only serve to “Cover Up” the incompetence of folks like Kitzhaber who appointed these functionaries to do impossible tasks, and Baxter who would seem more at home managing a group of Cub Scouts.
5. THE PAPER PROCESS IS IN GRAVE DANGER OF FAILING: I believe at one point I heard that there were 7000 mail-in applications waiting to be processed, and with current resources, even this pile could not be processed by the given deadlines. Which begs the question: “what are the actual deadlines?” That fact also seemed to be squishy in discussions around the table. There was a November 25th deadline in the indecipherable 40 page application mailed out to Oregonians. Is that the deadline? Or is it the widely touted deadline of December 15th? Does the December 15th deadline allow adequate time? What if all the applications arrive on the 15th? It seems clear that even by adding 100-400, people working overtime and double shifts, it would be impossible to meet the demand. There were no discussions regarding the background checks on the “hypothetical 400.” One person mentioned that insurance agents, who have been a critical part of the current enrollments, will soon be going on vacation for Thanksgiving and Christmas. What then? Sign up fairs are being planned to increase enrollment. But it’s incomprehensible that these are going to be paper based affaires. At the fair a Cover Oregon “Carny” (my term) will help you wade through the 40 pages. “The Carny” will then return to Cover Oregon where the data will be manually entered by someone who might be a convicted felon. Nothing I saw yesterday gave me any feeling this back up process was fairing any better than the actual automated system.
6. DEATH PANELS? THEY’RE HEEEEEEEEEER.
While I don’t want to be an alarmist, this meeting at one point seemed creepily close to the “death panels” that we have been warned about. This came at one point where two board members debated the wait time for an organ transplant. Apparently there are two standards, 12 months and 24 months and what should be the standard for Oregon plans was batted back and forth. While the board wasn’t discussing a specific case, we don’t even have the system implemented yet. What will these discussions become as thousands of the homeless, and drug addicted are thrown onto the system, and government bodies such as this begin making decisions on who will receive care and who will not? While it’s arguable Board Members won’t make individual decisions in most cases, it’s clear that at a macro-level these people will be making decisions on who will live and who will die. It’s also clear that Obamacare is all about redistributing wealth, and making the decision about who will get a finite amount of the medical care that’s available. After watching the Cover Oregon Board in action I would not feel comfortable having them manage their way out of a wet paper bag, never mind my healthcare.
What consumers need to do: Take responsibility. Vow to have nothing to do with Cover Oregon. Avoid these people at all cost. This is a system filled with chaos, with no one competent at the helm. If you have a policy and you can keep it: do so. If your policy has been cancelled do what I did: go directly to the insurance provider and bypass Cover Oregon entirely. For example, call Providence, tell them you are applying directly with them and forgoing your subsidy. It may be possible to reclaim your earned income tax credit (subsidy) at a later date. If you are young without health insurance and don’t want or need it: stay that way. If you ever do need it in a catastrophe you can not be denied, and IRS penalties are minimal and being delayed. Do not throw your most sacredly held personal information into this morass under any circumstances. It’s not worth it.
What the Board needs to do: Change it back. Pass a motion and make a recommendation that all cancelled policies be reinstated for a year as directed by the President. These would include those in the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool. Then draft a recommendation to the Governor that he appeal to the President to repeal Obamacare (the Affordable Health Care Act). Following this Ms. Baxter and Mr. King should admit their failure, turn in their resignations and the board should dissolve itself.
What Kitz needs to do: Grow a set. Stop dodging questions, running from the media, and hiding behind your “secret police.” Your philosophy of implementing socialized medicine has ended as all experiments in socialism do: failure. Doctor: this was to be your baby, the nations premier implementation of Obamacare. It’s been nothing but a gigantic mismanaged flop with a lot of fancy advertising. The buck stops with you. While this monstrous mess certainly has enough egg on your face to keep you and #shackuphoney out of Washington, I don’t think forgetting about Sebillius’s job goes far enough, Man up and turn in your resignation.
From the Cast Page for the Documentary “Occupy Unmasked”: Inspired by Andrew Beitbart and James O’Keefe, Dan Sandini is an independent citizen journalist working out of Portland, Oregon. He is a staunch advocate of the First Amendment. In 2010 he was assaulted by Democrat thugs for having the temerity to record a speech by then gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber. He produced a video of the Orwellian experience, which has received almost 70,000 views. Following the 2011 Tax Day TEA Party he produced videos detailing the hateful rhetoric and behavior of the Left, including homophobia, racism, anti-Americanism, and threats of violence. These videos have been seen by over 1 Million people and were featured on The Glenn Beck Program, The O’Reilly Factor, and Sean Hannity.