When he declared “No one is madder about the website than I am,” President Barack Obama delivered the line with his usual unemotional cool. But apparently he sent out some strong signals. The woman standing behind him who was reduced to one of those awful Washington human props started to faint. Maybe she picked up on his anger. His displeasure is certainly justified. The bureaucrats, the contractors and the geeks have managed to make an unholy mess of his legacy-defining health-care reform, just as it was beginning to get off the ground. The excuse that the all-important website was a massive undertaking doesn’t hold a lot of water when we remember that there have been three full years to get it up and running.
Having said that, the president and his mortified subordinates might be overreacting as they pull in extra help to do massive crash repairs. The fact is, he doesn’t need them. He has an in-house crew that can easily take on the enormous new system. I refer, of course, to the National Security Agency, which has shown amazing cyber-prowess. Face it, as gargantuan as the Obamacare website might be, it’s piddly when compared with a setup that manages to monitor the private communications and lives of nearly everybody on the planet. The people at the NSA have accomplished this with so little effort, they were unobtrusive, or they would have been were it not for Edward Snowden. Thanks to Mr. Snowden, we now know that these guys can add this to their portfolio without raising a sweat.
First of all, they wouldn’t even have to rebuild the troublesome structure aimed at confirming the accuracy of information applicants provide to the insurance exchanges. The spies already know everything there is to know about each and every one of us, so what’s to verify? For that matter, filling out the forms becomes automatic. So, too, could be the selection process. The computers could be ready with recommendations for exactly which insurance policies would best fit the details of your finances, medical records and even the most sensitive parts of your personal life. It’s such child’s play, maybe that part could be subcontracted to Amazon or Google. The project wouldn’t even need a special court to rubber-stamp it.
It’s entirely possible that this approach also could solve the political problem presented by all those Republicans trying to gut health-care reform. “It’s time,” declared the president, “to stop rooting for its failure.” Fat chance, unless some creative action is taken. If this was folded into the intelligence community, many of the right-wingers would be far less willing to engage in their acts of sabotage. Thinking really big here, maybe the entire Affordable Care Act could become just another section of the Patriot Act, which most of the actors in Congress have blindly supported for years.
Something drastic needs to happen before the American people decide to not play along with the ACA. That hasn’t happened yet. A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that even with the current train wreck, 46 percent of those responding believe in this law, up four points from a month ago. For the administration, that’s the good news. But 56 percent also believe the website chaos is a representation of the program overall. If the paralysis continues, that ultimately could be disastrous. If people decide it’s not worth the trouble, the effort collapses.
That’s why an NSA takeover is so appealing. It’ll be classified. All the decisions will be taken out of our hands, our coverage determined by algorithms. Healthcare.gov can be shut down, saving billions of dollars. It would be replaced by a secret collaboration between the National Security Agency and the insurance companies. We all know how each of them cares about our rights and welfare. The very idea should make us all faint with joy.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.