At the start of the 1987 film RoboCop, a giant robot called ED-209 is introduced as "the future of law enforcement." Unfortunately, it turns out to be a huge disappointment.
This is supposed to be one of many jabs at capitalism in the film, showing how a giant corporation can't produce a workable product because of corruption. Instead, it appears prescient when viewed as an analogy for how the federal government botched the launch of Healthcare.gov. The tagline for this website may as well be, "The future of flawed enforcement in health care."
Here are five ways in which ED-209 resembles Healthcare.gov.
It suffers delays and cost overruns.
We are told that ED-209 ran into cost overruns and project delays during its design and construction.
Healthcare.gov cost upwards of $400 million and it took more than two years to create. Where did all this money go, and why was the website still not finished after all that time? The contractors are pointing fingers at the Obama administration and vice versa. It may take a while for the whole story to come out, but in the meantime the result has been an expensive mess that will likely take many months, or maybe even years, to fix.
It hurts the people it's supposed to help.
ED-209 is supposed to be a keeper of the peace, but it spectacularly fails all of its objectives in its first test. If this is what it does in a simulation, we can safely assume it would do even worse if it were to actually walk the streets.
President Barack Obama promised that, "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan," when he was trying to convince Americans the Affordable Care Act was a good idea in 2009. This has been disproven in many cases by the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are losing their health insurance as a direct result of Obamacare. It penalizes the young and healthy by driving up their insurance rates and lowers the rates of the elderly and sick. It's good for some, but at a big cost to others.
It destroys itself.
Stripped of his weapon, RoboCop thinks fast to defeat ED-209. He grabs one of the huge robot's guns and points it at the other, blowing it off.
Healthcare.gov doesn't work, and it doesn't look like it will start working anytime soon, despite assurances. The only success stories that have been brought to light so far of the health exchanges actually working have been about people who are paying less than they otherwise would have without Obamacare. But if that is the primary group that signs up through those exchanges, Obamacare will enter a death spiral of higher costs and less coverage. It needs young, healthy people to sign up at least as much as people in need of expensive care to balance the costs of insuring people with preexisting conditions. Healthcare.gov's inability to allow people to sign up for insurance is hampering efforts to convince young people to sign up at all. The problem with delaying the individual mandate while keeping the rest of Obamacare intact is that it would mean young, healthy people wouldn't have to pay for coverage and insurance companies would be forced to take a loss.
It can't even do the simplest tasks.
RoboCop narrowly escapes from a confrontation with ED-209 by running down a flight of stairs. ED-209 tries to give chase, but after taking a single cautious step down the stairs, it slips and tumbles down into a position in which it can only flail its legs, but it can't stand up again.
There is no better visualization of the debut of Healthcare.gov on Oct. 1, 2013 than the sight of ED-209 falling into a heap after taking its first step. Healthcare.gov and all of Obamacare, by extension, are flailing right now. Buttons don't work, people can't set up accounts, they can't log in, and faulty information is being sent to insurance companies so it's difficult to tell if people signing up on these exchanges are actually getting coverage. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Who cares if it worked?
Dick Jones, who headed the ED-209 project, angrily tells a young upstart, "I had a guaranteed military sale with ED-209. Renovation program. Spare parts for 25 years. Who cares if it worked or not?" The young man responds that the company president thought it was important that it worked, and his vote is the only one that really counts.
President Obama was so focused on fighting Republicans over delaying the introduction of key parts of Obamacare that he wound up winning the battle but likely losing the war. Democratic senators are starting to call for extensions of the enrollment period and delays in the enforcement of the individual mandate, even after refusing to support any delay of the law in early October. Americans who are losing their health insurance or struggling to work with Healthcare.gov are also getting frustrated, and they are likely to take out their anger on the party that singlehandedly passed and protected Obamacare from defeat or delay.
There will be trouble.
Healthcare.gov looks like a failed experiment. Perhaps if it completely falls apart, someone with a fresh perspective on the problem of health coverage in America will step forward with a plan based on free-market principles that will drive costs down and allow people to get the care they need, rather than having a plan with good intentions that makes a bad situation worse.