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The White House Lied About the Cause of Healthcare.gov's Failure

After a month of shifting explanations it is now universally acknowledged that the President was not telling the whole story when he repeatedly claimed "if you like your plan you can keep your plan." But that was not the last whopper the White House told about the President's signature achievement. In fact, he and his staff were telling another one just last month.

The national media collectively gasped at Sarah Palin's "death panels" but shrugged for three years over the President's absurd claim. Obama used that promise to sell the program dozens of times, always without caveats. So why did it take the Washington Post three years to label this a whopper?

Perhaps the more pertinent question is how long will it take them to notice the new lie the White House was telling last month? As the roll out was plagued with glitches the White House immediately offered an explanation: The website was being crushed by overwhelming public demand. Obamacare was a victim of its own success.

This Bloomberg piece is a good example of how the coverage of the failed roll out went on Oct. 2nd. It opens with the rush of people which gave supporters "hope" that the site would be a success if only "the websites can stay up and running." This take is bolstered by the President himself who says the crush of people gave "a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans." The fact that the site was not up and running much of the first day isn't mentioned until paragraph five.

Of course we now know that the federal exchange signed up a total of six people on day one. It was an abject failure caused by poor design and poor coding. But it was weeks before much of that was known. In the early days the only source of information was the White House and the White House used that window to spin a story that helped deflect the failure.

On October 6th the President's chief technology officer, Todd Park, gave USA Today a more detailed account of why the site failed. It had been built to handle 50,000-60,000 visitors but had received as many as 250,000 Park claimed. He explicitly reinforced the idea that the failure was all about traffic saying "These bugs were functions of volume...Take away the volume and it works."

That was a lie.

Just one day before the site went live an internal testing bulletin warned "Currently we are able to reach 1,100 users before response time gets too high." The hope was that they could make it handle "up to 10,000 concurrent users in the next few days."

The site did not work. It was nowhere near ready to handle 50,000 people and the people in charge knew it would not be any time in that first week. And yet the White House spun its tale of overwhelming demand being the source of the problem. Todd Park did not go out to reporters on his own initiative. Like Ambassador Susan Rice before him, Park was sent out to give the initial stall story the White House already knew was not true.

And frankly, even the government's claim that the site was built to handle 60,000 users seems suspect. UPI tried to point this out, noting that Medicare part D's website was built to handle 150,000 people even though its pool of potential users was much smaller (and it was built 10 years earlier).

But the official White House line about demand overwhelming the system stuck. Some outlets saw it as another opportunity to scold the GOP. This Boston Globe editorial lambasted Republicans for "ignoring the practical needs of millions of Americans — the same ones who crashed websites this week in their efforts to get good coverage."

The White House PR staff must have had a hearty laugh over that one. Healthcare.gov, the national website designed to handle traffic for 36 states, would have been brought low if the town of Dumfries, VA (pop. 4,954) had all logged on at once.

And that's the heart of the problem. Even if the White House figures are accurate, the problem with the website was not that it got four times the expected traffic. The problem was that the site could only handle 1/50th of what they anticipated on launch day.

The White House has been lying about the Affordable Care Act in various ways for a very long time. It's nice that the media has belatedly caught on to some of the lies that were running the table back in 2010. It would be even better if they caught on to the ones the White House was telling them last month.


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