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AS I SEE IT

Posted 10/30/13 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Two questions come to my mind when I read the news on the government’s less than stellar performance at getting its new HealthCare.gov website up and running.
First, what is the Department of Human Services thinking as they try, without luck, to fix the HealthCare.gov website on the fly?
Second, is there any business in the world that would continue to put its customers through the frustrations that the Obama Administration is subjecting Americans to when it comes to using their website?
The obvious answer to those questions quite literally, is the difference between the way that private business and the government conduct business and view their customers. And that difference is going to be one of the reasons that many Americans may not come to love the Affordable Healthcare Act quite as much as some people in Washington, D.C., were hoping.
As anyone who has ever really had to deal with a governmental agency knows, the government simply doesn’t view citizens in the same light that private businesses view their customers. For many government employees, especially those at the federal level, working effectively with the general public is not the most important part of their job description. They are busy following rules and regulations and doing things the same way that they have been doing them for years. Since profits of the government are not tied to customer satisfaction, and a government employee’s job valuation is not tied to their ability to effectively work with the public, it is pretty clear that customer relations are not a high priority to the government. And that lack of understanding of customer service is why the Department of Human Services leaves the website, that frustrates millions of Americans who are trying to use the website to purchase the mandatory health insurance, up and running, in spite of its issues.
Now try that kind of website snafu for any private business. Do you think that any of the websites that Americans constantly use to gather their news or buy everything imaginable would still be up and running with the kind of problems that HealthCare.gov is experiencing? Not for one minute or one day would they have kept that website up and running.
Private business knows that their businesses, whether they be “brick and mortar” or online rely exclusively on their ability to serve their customers in the most pleasant, convenient and less stressful way possible. If they are able to do that successfully, their business will survive and thrive. If they can’t, then competition will take them out.
Yes, the Affordable Healthcare Act is the law of the land. And by law virtually every American, whether they like it or not, is now going to have to buy insurance as part of the individual mandate.
But if the internet is going to be the main avenue by which the majority of Americans must purchase this insurance, then the government must do what it has to do to make that purchasing experience as pleasant as possible. And if that means taking the HealthCare.gov website off-line until is works the way that it was intended to work, so be it. And if it means that the federal government is going to have to delay the individual mandate until the website is fully functional, then they need to do that as well.
As business has always known, if you roll out a product before it is ready, you do so at the risk of losing customer loyalty as well as business. It is a lesson that the United States government needs to learn very quickly. Especially since it is now in charge of the biggest insurance exchange in the world.