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Sherman Says: Obamacare’s reliance on the Internet was its first fatal flaw

The procedural failure behind implementation of the Affordable Care Act is an immense problem, although a great deal of attention has been paid to the website that was supposed to lead us to some form of the promised land.

President Barack Obama’s health care registration page was supposed to handle tens of thousands of people at once, the Washington Post reported.

“But, in a trial run days before its launch, just a few hundred users flat-lined the ,” the Post reported. “Despite the problems, federal health officials pushed aside the crash cart and rolled out www.HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1, as planned. The result? The website crashed shortly after midnight, as a couple thousand people tried to start the process.”

Obama’s first campaign for the White House showed brilliant use of social media and electronic communication, to reach potential voters and contributors. But using a campaign website to amass a list of valuable emails is a far cry from hawking health care.

The Internet is far from forgiving. Sites not only have to work, they also have to be current. The following was gleaned from the Internet on Nov. 18.

The website for an Amherst Little League baseball program is functional, but severely out of date. Visitors seeking information about the annual parents meeting are transported back in time with news that the session “is scheduled for April 20, 2012.”

A prominent youth hockey program’s website announced that tryouts at its home rink in Cheektowaga will be held Monday and Tuesday, April 8 and 9 of this year. There is, however, some basic information on registering for the current house league program.

Turning to local history, the website for Old Fort Erie also needs to be updated. The site is sponsored by Niagara Parks Heritage. It is no longer necessary to provide visitors with the complete schedule for the annual siege of the fort, which was held three months ago. The link to the events calendar is current, however. Visitors will find listings for events taking place from now until early next year.

The Southwestern Association of Volunteer Firemen’s website has updated information about upcoming meetings, but not about some special events open to the public. Now that it’s almost Thanksgiving, there is no reason to continue to feature visuals for a fundraiser for an ill child, a chili cook-off and a fire police seminar. Each event took place two months ago.

One of the most prominent individuals in the review of the effectiveness of contemporary websites is Vincent Flanders. His website, “Web Pages That Suck,” offers visitors vividly candid assessments. “[Author] William Burroughs described heroin as the ultimate product. Why? Because people would crawl through the sewers and beg to buy it. In the non-drug world, there are very few products that can be classified as having heroin’s appeal,” he recently wrote. How many websites have “heroin content?”

“Heroin content’s characteristics vary by type of site, but you’ll know it when you see it,” he said. “One global characteristic, though, is frequently updated content. The best way to get people to come back to your site again and again is by having content they need, and then updating this content on a regular basis.”

You could spend hours looking at Flanders’ endless examples of bad websites, but his opinion on the value of updated content is right on target.

In an Obamacare briefing for POLITICO four days before the launch, senior administration officials dismissed insurance industry concerns about the technology. One official said he had learned a lot about software fixes and patches, but that they were moving closer by the day to a “good consumer experience,” the Washington-based news agency reported.

“Nobody’s madder than me about the website not working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” Obama recently said. While he didn’t specify exactly what went wrong or who was to blame, the president admitted that there is no sugarcoating the problem.

“Remember, it’s what your audience wants that counts,” Burroughs concluded.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New Yorks. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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