Internet

Why the Googlification of Obamacare Really Matters


The healthcare.gov website

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The healthcare.gov website

The Internet is piling yet more vitriol on the shoddy Obamacare rollout in response to a report, by Bloomberg’s Alex Wayne, that the administration has recruited technology experts from Google (GOOG), Oracle (ORCL), and Red Hat (RHT) to help fix the bug-infested healthcare.gov website. “Bringing in the Silicon Valley cavalry isn’t a bad idea, but it’s hardly a silver bullet,” cautioned Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes. “Throwing more cooks in an already crowded kitchen—even if they’re great cooks—might not be the best way to save dinner.”

A healthy level of skepticism is justified given the website’s troubled launch. But, even if we are in for more drama surrounding healthcare.gov, this is great news for the White House, because:

It justifies the administration’s tough-it-out strategy. The implicit message is that healthcare.gov must be salvageable—otherwise, why would these companies wade into a political morass? Republicans in Congress will be scrutinizing the White House’s attempts to reboot the website and issuing subpoenas in hopes of further embarrassing President Obama, who has already been tarnished by its failure. These Silicon Valley firms are lending their expertise to the project even though some, like Google, are furious about the National Security Agency’s aggressive, secret pursuit of their customers’ data, as the New York Times reports.

It shows that not all of corporate America loathes Obamacare. From the start, the law’s detractors have charged it would destroy jobs and impede the country’s economic recovery. But if that were the case, why would Oracle Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison talk, in glowing terms, about his company’s decision to step in? “I know it’s a very political topic,” he said yesterday, according to Bloomberg News. “As an information technology company we are doing everything we can to help.”

Even Obamacare haters can’t fault this. Donald Trump is no fan of Obama or his health-care law. Only last week, he was castigating the president for his failure to get the private sector to build healthcare.gov. “I’d get rid of all the characters that destroyed this thing,” Trump said. “I’d go to one of our great technology companies and I’d use them.” One could argue that the White House should have consulted Google sooner, but better late than never. (Except—ugh—now Trump is going to go around telling every TV camera he can find that he rescued Obamacare.)

It will give cover to nervous Democrats. Democrats are worried as they prepare for the 2014 midterm elections that they’ll be held accountable for the website’s failure. The Times reports that Senate Democrats met yesterday with White House Chief Of Staff Denis McDonough, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, the officials in charge of the site, and Jeffery Zients, the guy who is supposed to resuscitate it. At least Zients finally had some good news for a change: “We’ve got a Google guy on this.”

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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