WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shouldn’t be made a scapegoat for the Keystone Kops-like rollout of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act this fall.
Instead, Sebelius deserves a round of applause from all Americans and especially President Barack Obama for working overtime to promote the signature legislation of his presidency.
Normally putting together a website to handle the complexities of the 906-page bill and its several thousand pages of interpretive regulations would take five years of planning. Sebelius was forced by circumstances beyond her control to do it in less than two years.
That’s the equivalent of introducing first-time players to video games by having them start with an ultra-advanced version of Dungeons and Dragons, where new dangers lurk behind every twist and turn.
Sebelius was handed the game’s controls while attempting to keep up with a body-numbing schedule that included dozens of personal appearances to tout the benefits of what may well be the most unwieldy piece of legislation ever passed by Congress.
When it was enacted in March 2010, no one in the House and Senate was aware of all its often-contradictory complexities — ones that later became a nightmare for the bureaucrats in dozens of federal agencies charged with writing its rules and regulations.
Those right-wingers who fault Sebelius for hiring a Fairfax, Va., subsidiary of the Canadian giant CGI to construct the healthcare.gov website are far, far off-base.
The Montreal-based firm — “Conseillersven Geston et Informatique” in French, which roughly translates to “Information Systems and Management Consultants” in English — is arguably the world’s most experienced builder of governmental health care websites.
According to Judi McLeod, an influential Toronto-based columnist, “the company is deeply embedded in Canada’s single-payer system,” providing information tech services to the national health provider Health Canada as well as to the Canadian Ministries of Health in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
When Sebelius signed up CGI, she had every reason to assume that a company with its experience would be able to roll out a “glitch-proof” health care website for Americans.
What she — or more likely her IT advisers at HHS — failed to consider was that Canada’s single-payer system is a model of simplicity compared to the Rube Goldberg complexity of Obamacare.
If the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010 had passed a simple single-payer system like those already successful in Canada, Britain, France and most European countries, it could have prevented most of Sebelius’ current headaches.
Still, despite the current hubbub, Sebelius may have a better chance of survival than most pundits think.
The mob of right-wing zanies now calling for her head almost surely will convince Obama to remain steadfast in his recent “full confidence in her” pledge.
Kansas City Star columnist Steve Kraske recently noted: “For all her 26 years in government, Kathleen Sebelius has stood as a model of cool. Unflappable, Firm Always, always in control — a product, surely, of her upbringing in the high-profile family of former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan.”
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The decision of the Obama administration to fly in planeloads of high-tech wizards from California’s Silicon Valley may well effectuate a fast repair that makes healthcare.gov easily navigable for millions of desperate Americans.
And after a lifetime of exposure to bare-knuckle politics, Sebelius herself is not likely to wave the white flag of surrender.
Ellen Gilligan, her sister, recently observed that if Sebelius is forced out, “they will never get anybody else confirmed” because of the dust clouds of controversy gathered over the law.
As The Star’s Kraske pointed out in his column, “Besides, who would take the job?”
Wayne Madsen is a contributing writer to www.onlinejournal.com.