Jon Stewart on the Obamacare Web site snafu (video)

Jon Stewart is becoming a problem for Obamacare, but it’s not really his fault.


The federal exchange is a clusterfrack.  As I’ve written before, it’s not just that the site doesn’t work.  A big part of the problem is HOW the site works.

For example, the DC exchange is simple as pie.  You create a username, and a password, and that’s pretty much it.  It asks you a few questions it needs in order to figure out how much the plans are, and whether you might be eligible for a subsidy, and voila, you can browse the plans to your heart’s content.

The federal exchange, not so much.  As you may recall, a number of states have either opted out of the exchanges, or haven’t gotten theirs ready yet, so for the citizens of those states, they’ll use the federal exchange.  The problem is that the layout of the federal exchange, and the absurd hoops you have to go through to even browse the policies available, make it extremely difficult to actually see any plans.

One big problem I noted early on was there was no “browse plans” button on the federal site.  The only option you had was to “apply” for plans.  But of course, no one wants to “apply” if they haven’t found a plan yet.  But putting that aside for a moment, there finally now is a “see plans now” button on the home page. Good for them.  But still bad for us. If you click that button, you’re taken through a variety of pages that finally ends up showing you the names of various plans, their prices, but no information about what the plans actually do, or cover.  So you have a title and a price.  Which is pretty much useless.

And then, if you want to find out what the plans actually do – you guessed it – you need to “fill out an application.”  But I don’t want to apply for coverage, I simply want to find out what the coverage is, what it covers, then decide if I want to apply.  (And remember, the other time I decided to “apply” anyway, it asked me to upload identity documents, which was ridiculous.)

Why is this so difficult to understand?

The problem isn’t just coding.  It’s the person who designed this site, and probably more importantly, the person in charge of making the final decisions about design.  Meaning, some brainiac in the federal government decided that we shouldn’t let people know what policies really exist until we get all sorts of information from them, like their home address and home phone.  Don’t believe me?  Look what happened when I clicked the button to “apply” this time around, so I could get the actual details on the plans I was trying to browse.  I got this:


Yes, in order to simply window show for Obamacare plans they need to basically run a credit check on you.  Why?  Who knows.  The DC exchange didn’t need to verify my identity in order to give me the details and prices of the various plans available to me.  So why is the federal site requiring such things? There is absolutely no sound reason why state exchange sites don’t require this kind of security, but the federal one does.

The problem with the federal exchange site goes far beyond the software code.  The site was designed by an idiot.  That idiot might work for one of the firms that made a lot of money building this thing, or might work for the federal government (basically, some senior official who apparently thought it wasn’t wise to actually let people browse plans easily).  Whatever the reason, the fix needs to do far more than just tweak the code.  It needs to give people easy access to any plans, in any state, without having to undergo the third degree, and without checking their credit history.

Here’s Jon Stewart’s 3-part take on the latest

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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59 Responses to “Jon Stewart on the Obamacare Web site snafu (video)”

  1. UncleBucky says:

    OH. Haha, well, I talkeed to an Illinois GetCovered rep on Saturday, and they were nice people. Onward and upward!

  2. Opinionated_Lady says:

    Did he submit a form showing that he was covered by insurance from active employment? Since he was, even though age 65, or over, he is exempted from the penalty, until you retire and no longer actively employed.

  3. Clevelandchick says:

    How the hell do they know? Are they saying your information isn’t passed on to the private insurance companies you apply to? Of course it is and of course they’re going to run the report. They can’t control that part of it. That’s probably the worst part about this whole program. Poor people have to have stellar credit to get healthcare? If they don’t, do they lose discounts or the ability to be covered? This whole program was designed by DC bubble dwellers with zero clue as to what 99% of us deal with.

  4. Dan JJ says:

    Why should anyone be surprised? This is par the course for govt. Whether it is govt with USPS( Congress must approve all USPS changes), Amtrak, FEMA, SSDI, Union Pacific Rail , EPA, GM debacle, Tennessee Valley Authority, etc.,… This is govt in action beyond its proper role of adjudicating based on law, securing borders from invasion ( militarized invasion), you know the rest…

  5. Dan JJ says:

    Also, too?

  6. Badgerite says:

    I did find that you can get some information from company sites as to benefits. I pretty much know the outlines of the dental plans, but have yet to look into the health because I suspect it will be more involved. But I am beginning to see the contours of what is available and at what price and I must say, with the subsidy, the rates are actually way more affordable. But people want more specifics. Not just generalities. Seriously, I can’t see why that would be so hard to put on the website. People to Obama. FIX IT!

  7. julius says:

    i signed up (rec’d the completed application ID#) but when i try to view my available options on the site, it just hangs with a blank screen. So, they are ‘getting people signed up’ but NOT providing the information you would need to choose a plan and get into a particular coverage level. Obviously that’s the ‘nitty-gritty part of the system and as of today IT DOESN’T WORK. And just as obviously, they have got this system half working to easily log in, provide THEM all the information, then just leave you hanging. Because then they can report your ‘successful account signup’ as an indication you will be in the program or are in the program going forward. Classic example of managing the available data to present the prettiest picture of a very ugly trainwreck.

    What the media needs to ascertain is how many people have actually SELECTED a plan from the federal site and will be receiving coverage. I would be willing to bet the answer to that question will amaze, or dismay MANY people.

    I wasted three hours with this POS site. Obama, stick to politics, your IT capabilities suck.

  8. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Part B is not automatic. I suppose that’s because it requires an outlay of money, but also some people don’t need it. When my husband went on Social Security, I was still working. My employer offered insurance for domestic partners. The insurance I had was better coverage for much less money (even with the extra taxes). My husband was exempted from Part B without having a penalty if he decided to enroll later.

  9. Drew2u says:

    Looks like my application has been processed, and the only trouble I have is a couple of reloads and the .pdf I received has white font. But with that, I don’t think it’s a major snafu compared to what other people have been complaining about.
    I tried the calculator for subsidies a couple of times. Last week it said I was ineligible, but my own numbers could be wrong (and so is John Stewart and that bit about calculators). Last night I tried it and the results were surprisingly great: I could get subsidies for a silver-level plan that’d cover 91% of the cost, leaving me paying $26/month. I could do that.
    Of course now that I have my eligibility results, I’m not quite sure where to go to apply…

  10. Opinionated_Lady says:

    If you are receiving SS, the sign up for Parts A and B is automatic. If you are not receiving SS, then you have to sign up for A and B.

  11. dcinsider says:

    The oversight of this is nothing short of criminal neglect. This site is less complicated than Macy’s for gods sake. One would think they invented the Internet last year.

    The thing that frustrates me the most is not that they screwed up the site, that will get fixed eventually. Its that they proved the adage that government cannot do big things. This is exactly what the right wing loves, and if they were not so pathetically disorganized themselves, they really could have made this the nail in the coffin for a program that isn’t even out of the gate yet.

    You get one chance to make a first impression. Now, every idiot will argue about why government should not be in the healthcare business (and as we all know it is not in the healthcare business under the ACA).

    Kathleen Sebelius needs to get canned as soon as this thing is fixed. They also need to get rid of everyone beneath her in the Secretary’s office who failed to conduct the proper oversight.

    Stunning incompetence, and she screwed up the one thing she needed to get right during her tenure.


  12. BeccaM says:

    The PPACA high-risk site in NM used to have a table, which I used to compare the plans. Deductible, coverage rates, prescriptions, etc. It was easy for me to pick a plan I could afford, and to see what the premiums would be.

    I’m the same way: I’m a very careful comparison shopper and when it comes to big-ticket items, I try to be careful. My top problem with all this on is there just isn’t enough information available, nor is it concentrated in one place.

    At the least, I would’ve expected a table of benefits of some kind. Without having to go through the entire process of applying just to see it.

  13. BeccaM says:

    Thanks, Mod3. Much obliged.

  14. BeccaM says:

    Get real. And no. What Mod3 says below is 100% correct.

    And before you accuse me of being ‘a puppet for Fox’ who goes to websites to spread propaganda, you might want to see who contributes authored posts for AmericaBlog.

    Hint: I’m one of them.

  15. Badgerite says:

    It does sort of tell you what the plans cover in terms of percentage of medical costs it will pay. For instance, the Catastrophic Plan covers less than 60% of medical costs. The Bronze Plan covers 60%. The Silver – 70%. The Gold – 80%. The Platinum – 90%. And it lists the companies that are offering these policies. That at least is an improvement over what was there before. I imagine the income verification is to determine the eligibility for the subsidy. Why they are so stingy with the information is beyond me. I don’t want to buy a health or dental plan unless I know a little more precisely what I am buying. Even with a subsidy. I don’t see why it would be so hard to just make the basic outlines of the coverage available by clicking on the plan. A page or two per plan should do it.

  16. JayRandal says:

    John have you considered the possibility site wasn’t developed for persons to get lots of info on coverage options. Just set up for persons to get conned into buying crap insurance coverage. If the site was actually set-up for comparison shopping, then no financial information would be required prior to selection. More I observe it appears to be gigantic scam which implies Obama is screwing us too.

  17. The_Fixer says:

    I came across that one again today (actually two instances of it, on either side of the column of text) and noticed something. There’s a little X at the top-right corner.

    I never wanted to click anywhere on the ad for fear of it taking me to more gross pictures. I was willing to take the chance this time – perhaps it would steer me someplace where I could lodge a complaint. I clicked on the little X.

    But guess what? It got rid of the picture, along with a notice from Google saying that they would try to furnish me with more relevant ads in the future.

    So maybe the marketplace works, because I haven’t seen it since. Maybe the secret is to click that little X to get rid of it, and Google’s adbots take note of it and don’t show it to you again. Perhaps if enough people click on the X to get rid of it, Google and the advertiser in question will get the message that the ad is counterproductive.

    Elegant theory, will report if my theory is correct.

  18. Moderator3 says:

    This is almost identical to a comment you made in a gay marriage thread. This one has an extra paragraph. I think you’re safe, but the system could pick it up as spam.

  19. Moderator3 says:

    Becca is definitely not a puppet for Fox. What is it she said that differs from what you are saying? One thing you may want to remember is that Part A is automatic. Parts B and D require signing up for them.

  20. DetroitSam says:

    Is this snark? You wife did not sign up for Medicare.
    Two months before a person reaches age 65, Medicare sends out the appropriate information, including the Medicare ID #.
    This is how I was notified when my Medicare was scheduled to start. No sign up, it automatic.
    Also, too, one cousin works for Medicare and is on Medicare. I was on the phone with here the day she received her Medicare information.
    Are you a one of the thousands of Fox sock puppets who is paid to go to different web sites to spout nonsense?
    Try volunteering at Readers for the Blind. Or a nursing home. Even a homeless shelter.

  21. DetroitSam says:

    Stewart has developed a growing affinity and comfort level with the bigot Bill O’Reilly. Is he auditioning for a spot on Fox News?

    Seems like Bill O’Reilly has been on the Stewart show more that John McCain has appeared on all of the gas-baggery network tee-vee shows.

    Wonder if Limbaugh, Larry Klayman and Ted Nugent are scheduled to appear?

    Actually, Jon reached his sell-by-date with me a lone time ago and ceased to be funny. He just comes off a douche with an ax to grind against the President. It was always there, but he was careful to hid it.

  22. vonlmo says:

    Well, at least the NSA computers work well. Everywhere else…not so much. Remember the stink over the poor cyber infrastructure that was discovered after 9/11?
    Looks like nothing has change-i-can-believe-in, has it?

    Now remind me how that screen shot tells me that my credit score is being checked? It seems as if only some financial demographics are being looked at like who holds your mortgage, car loan , amount of monthly mortgage payment so they can then ask you questions & compare your answers w the info on file. If you have ever applied for a credit report to be sent to your home you’ll have seen the same battery of questions. Folks, the marketplace, the Feds, Jeff Bezos & already know everything about you. Don’t think you slobs can hide. You ain’t Goldman-Sachs, SAC Capital or Mark Cuban.

  23. BeccaM says:

    From the reports I’ve seen, the Medicaid expansion has been the only relatively pain-free part of the roll-out.

    I don’t know how you avoided the credit report-level verification part. It may be tied to applying for any insurance other than Medicaid, which you have to do if you want to see any of the insurance plans.

  24. Drew2u says:

    I used the website yesterday and I had no problem, even during all the talk about how horrible the site is.
    I put in my info just fine, looking at how much I made, and basic info that I’d be giving any insurance company (No idea how you got to the part about a credit report).
    I live in Wisconsin and I make less-than-minimum-wage so it said, “Hey, Medicaid!” I guess something’s being compiled, but I have no clue past the site saying that. As for Wisconsin, Scottie’s kicking a ton of people off of Badgercare because he rejected money for Medicaid expansion (yay us voters who allowed him in office and a Republican run on the State in 2010)
    So as for what I’m supposed to do right now, I’m not quite sure….

    As for all the snafus that people are reporting – none for me so far!

  25. BeccaM says:

    I just remember with nostalgia and longing the simplicity that was the case when my wife signed up for Medicare.

  26. BeccaM says:

    Apparently the bulk of the work was farmed out to a primarily Canada-based private company that was FIRED by one of the provinces for incompetence and overruns.

  27. BeccaM says:

    I have my doubts about anything they claim at this point…

  28. perljammer says:

    You’re right about the testing. ezpz posted below about a test performed shortly before going live, that didn’t go too well.

    52 days left until the enrollment deadline. I suspect that December 15 is going to be an interesting day for maintainers and ACA call center staff.

  29. In this case, I think it’s necessary – they’re clearly trying “fixes” that aren’t working, so they need feedback. And privately no one is going to listen to my web suggestions.

  30. Yeah, and I’d like to not go out of business, so I really don’t people pushing ad block software to anyone. I was going to close up shop at Christmas, and it’s only the new design that saved us. Ad block is helping to kill all of us.

  31. The Illinois site IS the federal site – it’s one of the states that, at least for now, is being handled by the feds.

  32. They claim in the screen shot that it won’t count against you.

  33. Indigo says:

    Speaking of Windows 8 . . . it’s the beginning of the end of the web as we knew it.

  34. mirth says:

    “Crammed into conference rooms with pizza for dinner, some programmers building the Obama administration’s showcase health insurance website were growing increasingly stressed. Some worked past 10 p.m., energy drinks in hand. Others rewrote computer code over and over to meet what they considered last-minute requests for changes from the government or other contractors.

    As questions mount over the website’s failure, insider interviews and a review of technical specifications by The Associated Press found a mind-numbingly complex system put together by harried programmers who pushed out a final product that congressional investigators said was tested by the government and not private developers with more expertise.”

  35. Indigo says:

    Programmed by tea-partiers, perhaps.

  36. ezpz says:

    ….Government officials and contractors ran a test to see whether the web portal could handle traffic from tens of thousands of users simultaneously, and the site crashed after a simulation in which only a few hundred tried to log on at the same time, according to the Post….

  37. ezpz says:

    Sabotage? by whom and why?
    They tested it before launch and it failed the test with only about 200 on the site. They still launched it. If anyone ‘sabotaged’ it, it was the administration because they knew it was a broken web site.

  38. ezpz says:

    You can configure adblock to allow videos to play – or – you can simply disable it momentarily to watch the video.

  39. emjayay says:

    And when it was obvious the start date was too soon, I bet the word from Sibelius (passed on from on top) was we have to start anyway or the right wing will have more ammunition to kill the thing.

  40. emjayay says:

    Obama didn’t mention that either. He made it seem like the government screwed up and we called private corporations to fix it.

  41. emjayay says:

    Seems like they paid enough, although a big chunk was done by a Canadian company that someone else (Canadian Medicare I think) had fired a year before. It seems to me that management sucked probably from both the government and the contractor sides.

    What Obama didn’t bring up in his yeah it’s screwed up and we’re fixing it stuff was why do they suddenly have to call Silicon Valley hotshots or whoever to fix it? Why weren’t they creating it? Weren’t there stipulations about performance in the contracts?

    New York City has spent multimillions on various computerization schemes for different areas as seemingly routine as payroll and had them go over budget by multiples and overtime by years and in some cases just get tossed out and start over. Probably not the only cases. I don’t know where the reporting on the whole stories is or if it ever happened. Probably a lot of incompetent bureaucrats still happily making multi six figure salaries still somewhere and bad programming companies still happily getting multimillion dollar contracts.

  42. nicho says:

    And a generous helping of lack of sufficient testing. I remember once — eons ago — when we were having a new computer system installed. I was the non-tech guy in charge. It was almost ready to go and they asked me to try it out. I went from terminal to terminal, putting maximum stress on the system. One of the programmers went batshit. “What are you trying to do, break it?” I said, “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. First, I want to see if it can work at peak loads — which it will have to do from time to time. And, I want to see it whil you’re still here so you can fix it — not have to wait two days for someone to show up.”

  43. emjayay says:

    I tried that adblock thing and it stopped some stuff the regular popup blocker doesn’t stop. I think everyone has found a way around popup blocker. Anyway, adblock also stopped some videos from running. Don’t remember which ones. msnbc? I had to get rid of it.

  44. nicho says:

    Or sabotage? Don’t forget sabotage.

  45. Clevelandchick says:

    What’s also really crappy, every time your credit is checked it’s a ding on your report…if you have to apply to all the plans just to view what’s in them, that’s 20-30 credit checks on your report.

  46. MichaelS says:

    It’s not simply a matter of unanticipated consequences (like Apple’s iPhone 4 with its antenna problem). This reeks of design-by-BUREAUCRACY, which has resulted in a bad, bad, bad design (like the new Windows 8, which destroyed the START button which 99.9% of Microsoft’s customers knew, liked, and hated to see go). And the bureaucrat who pushed this design should be FIRED.

    The talking heads are absolutely right about how this looks for Obama and government programs. The far-right has been out to destroy government, so they can show that government can’t do anything right — and when they do screw it up, they succeed in that goal. But here we have the progressive side trying to demonstrate that government can do good and should be allowed to do so… And the dweebs screw it up utterly and completely. S.N.A.F.U. Obama’s incompetent underlings just walked us into the Tea Party’s outstretched arms.

  47. perljammer says:

    Probably a generous helping of both. Worth noting that “bad execution” is almost guaranteed when “getting it done by [deadline]” trumps “getting it done correctly”. There’s an old saying: “Fast, cheap, good. Pick any two.”

  48. UncleBucky says:

    That’s what I said. Bad specs or bad execution. Not sure.

  49. UncleBucky says:

    Very correct. The GUMMINT did not make this. A “private corporation” did this, and I can’t keep thinking that they had some incentive to grind the gears of the system a bit to get it to work not quite so right?

    I dunno. But I gotta say that there is more to this than saying “dang Obama” hahaha!

  50. UncleBucky says:

    Hahaha, yes, “lowest bidder”. Good.

    But another thing that makes me wonder is whether some element in the “contractor(s)” that has conspired/fiddled around or otherwise ruined what should be a straightforward experience?

    Are we looking at bad specs or atrocious execution?

  51. UncleBucky says:

    How’s the Illinois site?

  52. perljammer says:

    I can’t tell whether you’re saying that all the people bashing the ACA are wingnuts, or that people who bash the ACA without noting the role of a private corp are wingnuts, or what. But it doesn’t matter; whether or not the big, bad government wrote the code, the big bad government is responsible for providing oversight, and ultimately, for the quality of the product.

    I would bet that the contractors who wrote the code were either working to requirements developed by the government, or working to requirements reviewed and approved by the government. I would also bet that the contractors’ development plans and software designs were extensively reviewed and approved by the government — if they weren’t, then shame on the government, because that’s how this sort of program is supposed to be run. And I am pretty sure that from day zero, the overwhelming emphasis and absolute top priority imposed by the government on the contractors was to meet the scheduled “go live” date.

  53. fletcher says:

    What I’d like to know is if the ACA website was put up by the lowest bidder? Sometimes you get what you pay for (or don’t) when you farm out work to private contractors. Look at all the ripoffs and $100 hammers the military paid for during the defense buildup during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. And all we had to show for it was fighter aircraft that didn’t work as promised and “Star Wars” laser guns that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn let alone an enemy missile.

  54. Moderator3 says:


  55. The_Fixer says:

    This is typical of most any software development project that is large-scale.

    Really, computing these days, in terms of progress can be compared with the development of someone who has just gotten out of diapers. The way that programs are written is really quite crude. It’s really amazing that any of this shit works at all.

    Which is not to excuse the incompetence seen here. After all, Amazon works. But I am sure that it took a long time to get right.

    The business concerning identity verification and not being able to shop without registering is ridiculous. That’s the mark of project management that is totally removed from its mission.

    As usual, Stewart’s take was hilarious, though. He managed to include a Simpson’s clip, a Tron reference and Pac-Man as well!

    “Now how about the undercoating? Better get that, these Colecos will rust right out on ya”.

  56. dcinsider says:

    John, speaking of glitches, any way you can get that disgusting toenail fungus ad off your site?

    It make me nauseous every time I see it.

  57. greenman47 says:

    I’m a Democrat but i’m glad that Jon aims his guns at incompetence wherever he finds it.

  58. Stratplayer says:

    True, but dammit, someone in the administration should have been right on top of this from the get-go, monitoring every stage of the development process to ensure that the interface would be unbelievably, ridiculously, absurdly user-friendly. User-friendliness should have been an absolute imperative, first in people’s minds.

  59. nicho says:

    I love how all the wingnuts bashing the ACA snafu fail to note that the program was written by a private corporation not the big, bad government. But I thought that privatization is supposed to be Nirvana, because everyone knows that private corporations can do everything perfectly — unlike that stupid old poopy-head government.

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