Dr. Tim Johnson’s Obamacare Podcast: The ‘Unbelievable Bumble’

Dr. Timothy Johnson, retired Medical Editor for ABC News, in the WBUR studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Dr. Timothy Johnson, retired Medical Editor for ABC News, in the WBUR studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As president, you know things are really getting bad when every humor outlet from The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz (“Snowden Offers To Fix Healthcare.gov“) to The Onion (“New Improved Obamacare Program Released On 35 Floppy Disks“) is mocking your program’s failures.

President Obama himself expressed his frustration today over the widespread technical glitches besetting people trying to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare, saying that “nobody is madder than me,” NPR reports.

Here, in his latest podcast on health reform, Dr. Timothy Johnson, retired medical editor for ABC News, takes on what he calls “the very rocky start to the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act: the insurance exchanges.” He and his guests discuss the technical SNAFUs that are marking the launch of the exchanges and dissect their causes. He begins with a New York Times article today that says federal health authorities simply did not have the expertise to do the job of setting up the technological infrastructure needed for Obamacare. He asks, “Question #1, are they right, these reporters? And question #2, can it be fixed?”

Listen to the podcast above to hear some answers (and to hear guest Dr. Gail Wilensky, a high health official under the first President Bush, refer to Obamacare’s technical failings as “an unbelievable bumble” — what a fun phrase, rolling so nicely off the tongue!) And here’s one useful tip: For those who have trouble on healthcare.gov, the Kaiser Family Foundation is offering a simple calculator of health insurance subsidies on its website, www.kff.org.

Readers, reactions? Please share below. And catch Dr. Johnson’s inaugural podcast here.

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  • a_developer

    I’m unsurprised that your guest compsci prof wasn’t able to comment on the conflicts between the ideal implementation of a site and the implementation that the exigencies of having to actually release a product on schedule will let you produce. I’m not saying they did a stellar job, but it’s not a catastrophe either. It seems like most of the people up in arms about this site haven’t had much experience using websites younger than 6 months old. No matter how well prepared a product is, those first steps out the door are often *very* shaky, even for products prepared by companies who put a lot more money into their programming talent than the federal government (source: I program for one of those companies).

    Everyone needs to chill out, and let the bugs get fixed. It’s not a crisis, it’s just a normal tech launch!

    As a side note, you really might have considered going to someone who works in industry for the down-low on product launches. Academics are notoriously unfamiliar with what actually goes on during a product launch, and the students he boasted about preparing so well are the folks who we have to put through the ringer when they come to us on internships. There’s a big difference between looking at a failed engineering project and saying, “oh, they should have built it this way,” and actually building something on a timeline. It’s sad that the guest didn’t reflect on that, and instead lent the patent shine of credibility to an ultimately simplistic analysis.

  • Jane

    In my job, I deal with exchanging data with CMS. We have to massage the files to be able to be read by some archaic system there. I’m not surprised about the problems.