Two big computer snafus in state government should be a warning to public officials everywhere: Stop trying to do too much!
North Carolina’s Medicaid billing system was so dysfunctional it costs doctors time, money and patients, according to a class action lawsuit filed by a group of medical providers Thursday. The suit alleges the state Department of Health and Human Services and some of its computer services providers were negligent in developing and implementing a new Medicaid claims tracking system, known as NCTracks. Doctors from Cumberland, Nash, New Hanover, Robeson and Wake counties are part of the suit and claim "NCTracks has been a disaster, inflicting millions of dollars in damages upon North Carolina’s Medicaid providers.”
Meanwhile, according to the news outlet, another state agency had to pull the plug on its own digital renovation scheme:
North Carolina has stopped development of a multimillion-dollar tax collection computer system, and Department of Revenue officials say they will start over and re-bid the entire project. The information technology system, which had been in the works for five years, is the latest to come up short of the state’s expectations, although it’s unclear exactly what caused the department to pull the plug. The system was being built by the same company responsible for the defect-riddled rollout of the federal website associated with the Affordable Care Act.
BTW, "come up short of the state’s expectations" is bureaucrat-speak for "this whole project was a nightmare. We'd be better of junking this horror show and starting over."
And, that's right, the project was being handled by CGI, infamous for the bungled HealthCare.gov website. Partisan finger-pointing is sure to ensue, but both projects began under the Perdue administration, and are now in the lap of the McCrory administration.
The real lesson is that government just can't handle such projects. It's not so much the technology, but what technology demands. To work, new digital systems must be implemented speedily. The workforce must be highly motivated, and leadership must be bold and decisive. Creativity is essential. In the end, customer service is paramount. None of these qualities can be found in most government operations.
Technology also can't rescue government projects that are fundamentally flawed. The real lesson: Governments shouldn't try to do so much. In NC Tracks and Medicaid, the government is trying to micromanage health care, perhaps the most complex facet of human life. Medicaid is badly flawed, and a new computer system can't change that. Reform of Medicaid must come first.
The Revenue Department must administer tax laws of mind-boggling complexity. Technology can't change that. The real answer is a much simpler tax code.
Simplifying what government does is not an attack on government, as liberals would have it; simplifying what government does is the only way to allow it to perform those functions it should have.
(Hat tip to Carolina Plott Hound for the above news items.)