By George Perry
We have been reliving the United States of 50 years ago, particularly to revisit the horrendous Kennedy assassination but, at a much less dolorous level, the introduction of Medicare.
The Medicare rollout is viewed as analogous to the current Obamacare contretemps. There was plenty of anguish and anxiety (particularly among insurance executives) when Medicare was introduced.
Since it all worked out in time, so should Obamacare.
While problems do accrue to most new systems, Medicare is not a particularly apt analogy for our current malaise. At that time (1963) I was working for a large insurance company and charged with managing much of its data processing prowess. We found that Medicare processing involved accounting for, and paying, claims for the two states assigned to us. A rather routine activity, Medicare did encounter some road bumps, but eventually settled down without further anguish.
I do remember that a couple years later we took great pride in finding an outside vendor, eager to get established, that agreed to take over program maintenance for our Medicare system, cutting our costs in half and freeing our programmers from a dreary and career-deadening assignment. Top management was not pleased. Seems that a federal cost-plus contract reimbursed our actual costs plus an additional 20 percent profit. Since our costs were cut in half, so was our profit.
Anyway, at that time we were attempting to manage 80 programmers in developing and installing a state of the art (for the 1960s) online insurance system. Our greatest fear was that our over optimistic programmers would declare us on schedule, when, in the cold light of dawn, we were simply maintaining our distance from our goal.
To counteract this tendency we utilized a project management system developed by the Navy. It predicted the “critical path” to success and the probability of completion by our target date through a complicated computer analysis of the interrelationship of thousands of individual programmer tasks. Each week all programmers submitted the status of their many tasks. The critical path system analyzed all the new data and gave us a probability forecast. If the critical path activities weren’t on schedule, nothing else mattered. Our project management system worked extraordinarily well.
That was 50 years ago. I’m sure current management systems are infinitely more sophisticated. In all probability programmers submit progress changes daily and management has, the next morning, a thorough analysis of where they stand. I cannot imagine the Obamacare contractors having anything less.
I imagine that last summer their “critical path” system began warning that the probability of being ready by Oct. 1 was rapidly eroding. You will recall that once disaster struck, the White House almost immediately said it could be fixed by Nov. 1. This was either a foolish, panicky guess or perhaps their project management system had all along been predicting that another month was needed.
Unfortunately, the early warnings didn’t reach (or were ignored by) senior management. In our 1960s effort we had two independent consultants on the project team whose primary responsibility was bridging the gap between programmer management and bewildered top management.
In any event, we can reasonably expect a working web site around Dec. 1, and begin searching for another way to destroy universal health care. We should also recall that Obamacare was originally “Heritagecare” and then “Romneycare.” I’m sure Obama thought it a stroke of genius to adapt a concept developed by a very righteous think tank and subsequently installed by the “seriously conservative” erstwhile governor of Massachusetts. It now works extremely well and was seen as the ultimate in bipartisanship.
Even when Romney quietly left town, his health care system was installed sans carping and, after a slower start than our current national system encountered, gradually grew to encompass almost everyone in Massachusetts without a hint of disarray. The state of Kentucky, of very reddish hue, has a Democrat for governor and has installed Bazaar without a whiff of trouble. Does this tell us anything?
I personally believe that the American people have a high sense of fairness. Most Americans are not highly political (“a pox on both their houses”) and the shriller partisans seem to have found well-paying refuge and retirement in Congress, or as fair and balanced media pundits. Our citizens give Obama reasonably high approval ratings (except maybe during our current contretemps) while seeing Congress as an ugly pit. This may be because they sense that Obama has good intentions and has often been unfairly attacked. I’d like to think the country would like to wait and see how the Affordable Care Act fares during the next six weeks and reflects its judgment at the polling booths next November.
Perry is a retired vice president of American Express Financial Advisors (now Ameriprise). His articles on electric cars and a complete analysis of Social Security and Medicare can be found at www.entitlementdilemma.com. His email address is George@entitlementdilemma.com.