I started working on HealthCare.gov two years ago in late August 2012. The problems with the launch last October are well trod territory. For more on my involvement, go here. Going back through the massive Workflowy outline I keep of in-progress writing pieces that I never quite publish, I found a piece I started writing back in Decemeber 2013 as a talk submission when the wounds of HealthCare.gov were still raw. I wish I shared it then, but I didn’t. So here it is, lightly edited.
Whenever you pour your heart and soul into something, and it doesn’t turn out how you intended it, it is very hard. There are many, many things critics can say about HealthCare.gov, and I have plenty of my own concerns.
But despite all this, I am proud to have been a part of it. Not because it came out perfectly, which it certainly did not. I’m proud to have been a part of it because it matters. It’s a big, messy problem and an imperfect solution, but it matters and will change peoples lives. I did the best work of my career, much of it internal stuff the public won’t ever see. I learned an immense amount.
We make things because we believe they should exist in the world. That needs to include big, imperfect things that can get better over time, not just manageable, perfect, elegant little things.
We need to be willing to jump into situations where the results are not guaranteed. Where we know it’ll be hard, maybe painful, and we do it anyway.
We need to make the things that need making. Maybe it comes from my elementary and high schools. Both schools took sports very seriously; were routine champions. I was never much of an athlete. As a 6'5" eighth grader I defied expectations as a lousy basketball player. As an art kid I didn’t care for the extremes of a jock-oriented environment. But always liked the focus on team.
I grew up outside of Detroit. At the time*, Barry Sanders was in the prime of his career. One of the greatest running backs of all time, he started his professional career playing for the Detroit Lions and ended it there. I never really cared about football, but growing up outside of Detroit, admiration for that humble, dedicated man was everywhere. He could have gone anywhere, but he was willing to lose out on a championship ring because it was more important to stay true to his team.
Then I went to school in Cleveland right as Art Modell was packing up the city’s beloved Browns to move to Baltimore. Detroit had grown weary of the Lions losing, but Cleveland bled orange. When he took away the city’s team, it was the ultimate betrayal. Luckily the city fought and was able to keep the name from leaving. Five years later the Browns were back. This was the wound Lebron James reopened when he went chasing his ring to Miami.
Sometimes the lessons that good people try to teach through sports get clouded by lousy parents. I had my fair share of encounters with lousy parents (not mine, the parents of teammates), but the good lessons weren’t lost on me. ‘Team’ matters. Playing hard matters. Busting your ass and coming up short is better than not trying at all. (Or moving to Miami for a ring.)
I believe in what the Affordable Care Act is trying to do. I, like everyone involved, am hugely disappointed by the way things started out. It’s still got a long way to go. I’m not still on the inside with it, but it’s still my team. And I’m not going to hide my colors.
*It was also the Bad Boys era of the Detroit Pistons. I liked the hustle, but was turned off by the loudmouths and arrogance of much of the team. Laimbeer, Mahorn, and the later-phases of Rodman. But Joey D, Joe Dumars, was the guy I could respect. The straightforward hardwork was what I liked. Isiah Thomas was the guy in the massive fur coat who ignored me as I waited by the locker room exit for an autograph. Dumars was the guy who happily signed my basketball.