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October 27, 2013
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Publisher’s Notebook: We didn’t need Canada’s help to screw up our health care website

We don’t need any help from Canada screwing up our national health care system. Our government is perfectly capable of doing that on its own.

Lost amid all this screaming and shouting and finger-pointing over a $400 million or so government health care website (something I could have handled for a mere $50 million or so) is the fact that it is being built and managed primarily by a Canadian company.

Founded in Quebec City in 1976 by two 26-year-olds named Serge and Andre, CGI Federal was the primary contractor retained to build the health care site in 2011, with a winning bid of $93.7 million. The total project, according to the Washington Post, is estimated at $400 million through several other contracts.

By the way, CGI stands for “Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique” in French, roughly translated to “Information Systems and Management Consultants.”

The failed Oct. 1 launch of the site (www.healthcare.gov) has created all kinds of angst because, well, when you spend $400 million on a website, there is an expectation that it will actually, you know, work.

I bought a weed-whacker once, got it home, put on my goggles, pulled the handle and — nothing.

So I know how it feels.

The employees at CGI have been pulling their hair out trying to fix the glitches in the site, according to the Washington Post. “There’s been a lot of agitation and anger, because CGI really prides itself on having family flexibility,” one staffer told the newspaper. “There’s a lot of frustration. People are getting sick, fainting on conference calls.”

Fainting on conference calls? I’ll guess that’s possible if the president of the United States is also on the call.

“You’re making me look bad,” he might have reminded them. “And I know where you live, so don’t make me hack your phones and email.”

I thought the clerk was going to faint when I brought my faulty weed-whacker back and I’m just a bald nobody with no secret service agents to back me up.

Another guy told the Post that things might have gone better if the website only cost $4 million and had just one contractor and not an entire list of companies working on the project.

“If it had been a $4 million website, it would’ve had higher likelihood of being a success,” he told the Post. “It’s not just CGI. It’s any collection of government contractors, if you put them together, will find a way to put together something complex enough to justify $400 million.”

In other words, the government typically throws enough chum in the water to start a pretty good feeding frenzy. There are more than enough sharks willing to take a bite out of the bloated whale that our federal government has become.

It’s what happens when it’s not your money in the first place.

“Four million, 40 million, 400 million — what’s the difference?”

Especially when you are already spending $10 billion per day to run the federal government.

Still, you would think that we could have found an American company more than capable of building the site. Facebook comes to mind. Last I checked it had more than ONE BILLION users.

Besides, Facebook and Google know everything about us anyway, so why not let them handle our health care data?

“LOL. Went to the doc today and he told me why I’ve been wetting the bed. Pray for me!”

“Ate a taco and got diarrhea today at lunch. :-(”

“Doc pulled 6 inches of ear wax out of me today. I can hear again. :-)”

It never ceases to amaze me what people are willing to share with perfect strangers.

I’ll also guess the federal government could have contracted some students at MIT or Harvard to build the site for a lot less than $400 million.

In fact, some IT class geeks might have done it in three days for pizza and beer. Geeks have risen to the top of the American food chain.

Steve Jobs would have had the health care site up and running within a week, complete with music, video and a cool little app that zaps you when your premiums are late.

Canada has nothing on the Silicon Valley. They should stick to hockey and let us run the World Wide Web.

It’s bad enough that my sneakers are made in Vietnam (at least they work) and the last time I bought an American flag it was made in China (and, yes, there is something fundamentally wrong with that).

Most would agree that we need health care reform in America. Viagra should not cost $25 per pill, for heaven’s sake, and our kids deserve an equal shot at quality health care.

But if this $400 million broken website is an example of the level of service we can expect under the government’s new Affordable Care Act, there’s a reason many Americans are saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Or, as they say in Canada, “It’s broken, eh?”

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Oct 27, 2013 12:04AM Published Oct 27, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.