Opinion: An Error Message for the Poor

Source: David A. Super, New York Times, January 3, 2014

More than two million people have signed up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a tribute to the effectiveness of the “tech surge” the Obama administration deployed to overcome the highly publicized problems with HealthCare.gov that emerged in October. The website’s initial rollout will long stand as a monument to how badly technology contracting can go wrong. But the remarkable recovery also demonstrates what a determined response to such bungling can achieve. Sadly, food stamp and Medicaid recipients can only look on in envy. Just as disaster-relief agencies keep track of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, students of anti-poverty programs remember a litany of automation and contracting meltdowns — some of them prolonged, even epic. Florida, 1992-93. Michigan, 1998-99. Colorado, 1998-2002. Texas, 2006-7. Indiana, 2007-9. The Colorado Benefits Management System is particularly memorable: When first implemented, it reportedly refused food stamps to anyone who did not have a driver’s license from Guam. ….

…Properly supervised contractors can use technology to improve the delivery of government services. But attention, oversight and willingness to act decisively to remedy fiascoes seem to depend on the wealth and clout of those who are affected….