Editor's letter: The launch of Obamacare

Blame human nature, not technology, for the epic fail of HealthCare.gov.

Blame human nature, not technology. In explaining why Obamacare’s primary website is malfunctioning, critics have blamed faulty communications with contractors, an arrogant White House, or Big Government in general. Tech experts have cited a fundamental design flaw that requires users to set up an account first, unlike the more browser-friendly websites of California and Kentucky, which have signed up tens of thousands of people. That may all be true. But at the most fundamental level, the epic fail of HealthCare.gov is a vivid demonstration of the human propensity to cling to what we want to believe, rather than what the facts tell us, when we’re facing a threat.

The contractors and bureaucrats who mismanaged the launch of Obamacare had to know they were in big trouble when the massively complex software crashed during very limited testing. Why did they go ahead with the scheduled launch anyway? For the same reason that House Republicans went ahead with a government shutdown and the threat of debt-ceiling default, even though almost everyone outside their bubble warned them that this strategy was doomed and would backfire. Psychologists call such blinkered thinking “motivated reasoning.” Human beings are primarily emotional, not rational, so we engage in “confirmation bias”: We start off with what we want to be true, look for evidence that supports our hopes, and screen out that which does not. When she was asked this week why she didn’t advise the White House to delay the rollout of the troubled website, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Waiting is not really an option.” Neither, apparently, was facing an inconvenient truth.

James Graff

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