For those of us who have been critical of the Affordable Care Act and concerned that the government would botch an already flawed concept, the past three weeks have definitely been ones to behold. You would have to have been living under a rock to not know about the massive failure of the new program's portal for Health Care Exchanges, www.healthcare.gov. Despite a dramatic drop-off in traffic since the first week, the website continues its dismal failures unabated. Add to that mix the President offering a toll free number that did not work for most who tried it, and tales of thousands who have waited helplessly on hold trying to reach an Obamacare navigator, and you quickly get the idea that this will be a torturously challenged rollout. The image of this entire debacle was easily summed up yesterday, when one of the thirteen people they could actually find who had been helped by this law almost passed out directly behind the President while he was telling us how much better off she was.
The thing is, the excuses you are hearing are not the true reasons for the problems. It is not that they used 10 year old technology, or that they were crushed by overwhelming demand. It is that the assembled parts, poorly designed and managed by government bureaucrats, insurance companies and private contractors, do not fit. It is as if we shipped partial parts for a Volkswagen, Cadillac, Humvee, Yugo and a Harley Davidson, told someone to build a car, and then wonder why it doesn't work. This is not going to be fixable in its current state. This is a pending do-over.
So this morning I read that the President and his administration are deploying a “tech surge”; calling in “the best and the brightest” from the private sector to refloat this bloated ship and set sail to happy coverage land. Never mind that the phrase “the best and the brightest” was originally coined to sarcastically describe the people who screwed up the Vietnam War – this is the path we are now on. We get to spend about a billion dollars to fix what our $500 million dollars gave us. I was most interested to read that the government has reached out in this effort to Verizon.
This should be interesting. I wonder how the President actually got someone there on the phone.
I have a long running love/hate relationship with Verizon. They have, hands down, some of the best communication technology available. I am a Verizon Wireless customer. They have the best national 4G network anywhere. I travel a great deal, and can almost always find consistent, reliable service. I am a Verizon FIOS (fiber optic TV, internet and phone) customer. It offers excellent quality, and is highly reliable. The annual investment I make with these folks is not a tiny amount. I spend about $5,600 a year with that company. Their systems work almost without fail, and I respect that.
God help you, however, when something goes wrong.
For some reason, Verizon has great difficulty, in my opinion, getting the customer relationship part of the equation right. When you place that dreaded service call to them, you spend 40 minutes navigating an impossible voice activated menu. It asks for archaic information related to your account (which any human you eventually wind up with WILL NOT have, forcing you to repeat it). It tells you that you can get faster service online – and if your internet was working, I suppose they would be right. Most of the call consists of the system asking inane and useless questions while you repeat “representative, representative, representative, representative, REPRESENTATIVE”. Part of the problem with their system is that it doesn't understand key words and phrases, such as “G@##A$#%+T, get me a F^*&^%$G representative, you worthless piece of S4!T!!!” Then, when you finally reach a human being, it is usually less than 5 minutes before you start asking if you can have the computer back, as it was apparently smarter than the person to whom you are now speaking.
Verizon has so much trouble on the customer service side of things that early on in the FIOS launch, they set up a program called “PAM”, the Personal Account Manager program. FIOS customers were notified with great fanfare that we had been assigned a PAM, and they would be able to assist us with all our needs. I naturally had some questions about the FIOS service (like “when will we get Fox News in Hi Def?”), so I immediately called my PAM. And called my PAM. And called my PAM. Then I called my PAM's boss, since that number was included in my PAM's (apparently unchecked) voicemail. Then I called my PAM's boss. Then I called my PAM's boss. Never got a return call. From anybody. It turns out that the short lived PAM program was a true debacle. They had hired private firms to fulfill this role, and never gave them special access to decision makers within the company. I was eventually informed in a discussion forum conversation by someone who purportedly had been a PAM, that they would were simply supposed to take the customer issue, and then call the same infernal customer service number that everyone used. No wonder the program broke down faster than a Republican in a government shutdown – it was never set to succeed.
And no Verizon discussion is complete without discussing their billing. The invoice for an elephant's colonoscopy would be easier to understand. All I know is I signed up for the $99.95 per month FIOS bundle, so naturally my bill is $220 a month. I would call to inquire why, but I refer you back to the previous two paragraphs. It is easier just to pay the bill.
So now we learn that Verizon is being called upon to help our government out of this bind.
As I review the information covered here, I am beginning to think that this is a perfect fit. Between Verizon's less than stellar customer communications and the government's bureaucratically archaic provisioning system, it should only take about 100 years to get this done.
Whatever they come up with may be an impossible system that easily infuriates, but dammit, it'll work when it's finished.