Obamacare: 500M Lines of Code, $500M, 60% Complete, No Surprise

Obamacare: 500M Lines of Code, $500M, 60% Complete, No Surprise

The historic IT disaster known as the Obamacare web site has been ofintense interest to me, since I’ve been a Senior Software Engineer fordecades, and I have personally participated in, witnessed, andreported on (as a technology reporter) a number of IT disasters. Buteven so, the size of the Obamacare web site catastrophe on October 1still takes my breath away.

When I first heard, shortly after October 1, that there was 500million lines of code in Healthcare.gov, I quickly rejected thatfigure, because it’s impossible.

Going back to the development of IBM’s System/360 operation system, asdescribed in Fred Brooks’ classic book, The Mythical Man-Month, theaverage programmer on the project wrote six lines of code per day. Ofcourse, every programmer writes a lot more than that on SOME days, buton other days he writes zero lines of code, since he’s doing testingor debugging or rewriting or documenting. So for System/360, it allaveraged out to six lines per day per programmer.

So let’s say that the Obamacare programmers were much better thanthat, and wrote 100 lines of code per day average. Let’s say thatthere were 1000 programmers. And let’s say that, over the three yearperiod, there were about 660 business days. Then, with those generousassumptions, you get 100*1000*660 = 66,000,000 lines of code. It’ssimply impossible to reach 500,000,000.

And yet, the 500 million figure is apparently true. I’ve heard itdozens of times in the last month, and no one is denying it.Healthcare.gov apparently really does have 500 million lines of code.How is that possible?

I get a picture in my mind of 1,000 people sitting a computers typingcode, without worrying about whether or not it works. Given the sizeof the catastrophe, some variation of that must have happened.

More important than that, a code base that size is unsupportable.Health services is a rapidly changing field, and every time there’ssome kind of process or rule change, it will take an army ofprogrammers to make all the necessary changes in the code base. Andthat assumes that all the bugs have been fixed, which is far fromtrue. Healthcare.gov will not be fully functional at any time in theforeseeable future, if ever.

On October 1, Healthcare.gov had 500 million lines of code, and couldhandle a handful of simultaneous users. Facebook.com has 20 million linesof code, and handles millions of simultaneous users.

Then there’s the cost. Healthcare.gov should have cost $5-10 millionto implement. Take into account government corruption andincompetence, it should have cost $10-25 million. Instead, it cost$300-600 million — let’s say $500 million. How do we get to thatfigure? Well, assume 1000 programmers are paid an average of $100 perhour ($200,000 per year) for 8 hours per day for 660 business days:$100*1000*8*660 = $528 million. So at least that figure makes sense– as long as you understand that the Obama administration poured halfa billion dollars into the pockets of his cronies and supporters, andgot exactly what he deserved with Healthcare.gov.

How could President Obama have been so wrong?

There have been numerous reports that the Obama administration hadbeen informed many times, including by McKinsey & Co. in March, thatHealthcare.gov was in serious trouble. And yet, just two weeks ago,on November 19, President Barack Obama said:

I was not informed directly that the Web site would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know — I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity a week before the Web site opens if I thought that it wasn’t going to work. So, clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the Web site. And so, since he posed the question of how he couldn’t have been that stupid, let’s try to find an answer.

And so, since he posed the question of how he couldn’t have been thatstupid, let’s try to find an answer.

Once again, I have a number of personal experiences that relate tothis, and the main one I’d like to relate is the most bizarre day ofmy professional life.

In 1985, I was doing contract programming for Northrop Corp.,developing embedded software for munitions guidance systems. Theproject manager had to be reassigned, and I became acting manager.After being in this position for 2-3 weeks, it was clear to me thatthe whole project was in trouble, would slip at least three months. Itold this to the program manager, and he nearly freaked out.

I was then pulled into one meeting after another, and met high-levelmanagers that I never knew existed. Their conclusion apparently wasthat I was full of crap, and they decided to fire me, but they weren’tsure, so they decided to let me stay on until the release date, andthen they would fire me.

About a week before the release date, there was a meeting in the lab,where the lead programmer was to demonstrate the embedded system tothe Corporate VP. I attended this demo, but I was ordered just tostand there and keep my mouth shut. So I stood back, leaned againstthe wall, and just watched the proceedings.

The lead programmer gave his demo, and the VP ooohed and ahhhhed. Hethen asked, “And this will be ready for release next Monday?” Thelead programmer said, “Yes, it will be ready on Monday.” The othermanagers in the room also said, “Monday.”

I was holding my breath through all this. I couldn’t believe what Iwas hearing. Either I was crazy or all of them were crazy. That’swhy I call this the most bizarre day of my life.

Well anyway, to make a long story short, the project was not ready forrelease the following Monday. It slipped six months. I wasn’t firedbecause one Silent generation manager went around and told everyonethat “Xenakis was right, so he shouldn’t be fired.” So I wasn’tfired.

I’ve had several other experiences like that, except that usually Iwas fired, even though I was always right. In 1992, I was working asa contract programmer for Fidelity. I did a little unit testing, andwrote a memo to my manager, listing numerous problems why the projectwas in trouble, saying that it would slip at least six months. Themanager was so furious that he had smoke coming out of his ears. Hefired me. The project crashed completely a couple of months later. Iwas right, and he was wrong, though I paid the price.

In a previous article ( “14-Oct-13 World View — HealthCare.gov IT systems a continuing disaster”) I related a 2005 experience where I was fired fortelling my management that the $10 million project currently underdevelopment would slip 6-12 months. I was fired and out of a salary,while the dozens of incompetent engineers kept collecting salaries forover another year, at which time the disastrous project was canceledcompletely.

So there’s really nothing about the Healthcare.gov disaster that’s asurprise to me (except the 500 million lines of code). I’ve been aSenior Software Engineer for a long time, and I’ve worked on over 100projects, so I’ve seen disasters. The only thing that’s differentabout Healthcare.gov is the breathtaking size of criminality of theObama administration in wasting so much money on cronies andcorruption, and the breathtaking size of the resulting well-deserveddisaster.

It’s now December 1, the scheduled date of the Healthcare.govre-launch. Based on news reports, the following has been done:

  • The screens will be changed to be prettier and more fun.
  • All the small business functionality has been removed and postponed for a year.
  • All the functionality for online payments has been removed, which means that customers will have to be billed by mail by the insurance companies.
  • The security issues, including the exposure to identity theft, have not been dealt with at all.
  • According to some reports, the web site is only 60% completed, even after 500 million lines of code and $500 million. The cost of the web site could run into the billions.
  • Users will be encouraged to go online at “off-peak hours,” to keep the web site from being overloaded.
  • The administration is licensing other web sites to share the load. GoHealth.com and TheHealthSherpa.com have been named in news reports.

With regard to the billing being done by mail, as I understand it, youhave to miss three payments in a row to be dropped off your Obamacareplan. If that turns out to be true, then what you can do, DearReader, is sign up for an Obamacare plan, not pay your bill, and thensign up with a different insurance company in three months. However,your doctor won’t be happy to see you, since the insurance companywon’t reimburse him for treating you.

The Future of Obamacare

Long-time readers are aware that from the day it was first proposed in2009, I’ve referred to President Barack Obama’s health care plan as a proposal of economic insanity,because it’s a repeat of President Richard Nixon’s wage-pricecontrols, which were an utter, total disaster for the economy.

In an article on July 5 ( “5-Jul-13 World View — Eurozone and Obamacare continue their parallel economic collapse”), I explained in greater detailwhy Obamacare would fail for the same reasons as Nixon’s wage-pricecontrols and Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in the 1950s.

A couple of people criticized me for making the comparison to Mao’sGreat Leap Forward. However, Mao’s Great Leap Forward containedexactly the same elements as Nixon’s wage-price controls and Obamacare– attempts to control a huge market by passing a law, which makesjust as much sense as trying to control the weather by passing a law.

But if the elements are the same, there are major differences indegree. Mao carried those elements much farther, and the results werecommensurately more disastrous, with the deaths of tens of millions ofpeople. Nothing like that happened with Nixon’s controls, or isexpected to happen with Obamacare, where the “only” result is adisastrous economic and medical crisis, with the destructionof much of the medical services marketplace.

Still, there’s one more lesson to be learned from Mao’s Great LeapForward. When things started going wrong in early 1959, Mao waswarned by numerous experts. Instead of heeding those warningsimmediately, which might have saved ten or twenty million lives, Maohad the experts fired or executed. We’re now at a very dangerous timewhen the economic calamities of Obamacare are obvious to almosteveryone, and are being pointed out by many people. But instead ofheeding the warnings, President Obama is ignoring them, andthreatening political opponents with such things as further IRSaudits. The longer President Obama continues in this way, the moredamage he does. Obamacare will not cause the tens of millions ofdeaths that Mao’s Great Leap Forward did, but it’s now quite possiblethat Obamacare will be the direct cause of hundreds or even thousandsof deaths. Investors Business Daily

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Australia, China, India, Japan,Obamacare, Healthcare.gov, Fred Brooks, Mythical Man-Month,System/360, McKinsey & Co., Northrop Corp., Fidelity,Richard Nixon, Wage-price controls, Mao Zedong,Great Leap Forward
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.