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Lessons from Disney World for Obamacare

By D. G. Martin
Posted Tuesday, November 12, 2013

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Chapel Hill, NC - What does Disney World have to do with Obamacare?

There is an answer, but you will have to read on a little bit to get there. First, there is this grandfather’s testimonial about a wonderful experience at Disney World last week. Watching grandchildren experience the magic of the Disney kingdom was a treat of a lifetime.

Fun and exciting rides, a realistic safari experience, a rocket ship trip to Mars, a dramatic flight over California, a Star Wars space flight dodging the forces of the Empire and more.

But it did not start out that way.

At the check-in at one of the Disney hotels, each of us got a bracelet that took the place of a real key or key card. Brush the bracelet by the door handle, and the door unlocks. And there is no need for tickets to the Disney parks. The bracelet contains all the information about what rides and times we have purchased.

Just brush the bracelet by the gate, and a green light signals admittance.

At least that is the way it is supposed to work. However, when our group arrived at the 9 a.m. park opening time, rushing to meet a 9:15 “fast pass” date for the Buzz Lightyear ride, the green light did not come on when my bracelet passed by the entry gate. The same thing happened to my son-in-law, Cotton. So we had to stay behind while the rest of the group hurried to Buzz Lightyear.

The park attendant sent us the guest relations window to get our problems resolved. After a long wait, a Disney crew member, Mindy, checked our records and confirmed that we were entitled to enter. She pointed us to another place in the park to get our bracelets reprogrammed. More time lost.

“That won't do,” Cotton said. “You could do that right here, couldn't you?”

She could, and she did. For our trouble, Mindy gave us a paper voucher good for one quick entry to any ride that day.

Meanwhile, her supervisor, Travis, explained that the bracelet system was still being tested. “We are in beta test-two, and are having an 85 percent success rate. We think 85 percent is pretty good.”

Pretty good, unless you're part of the 15 percent whose bracelets do not work.

But for the next three days we became part of the 85 percent. It was smooth sailing. At every ride, green lights signaled our entrance to the fast pass lines. Every vendor accepted our bracelets as payment for the many things we and our grandchildren wanted.

It turns out that we were part of a massive transformation that will cost Disney a billion dollars to put bracelets on all visitors and connect them to everything Disney. Testing has been under way for most of this year.

Disney plans to recoup the billion dollars and much more by increasing convenience for its visitors. It will also be collecting more and more personal data about those visitors. It will follow them throughout the park, learning what appeals to them. A Disney actor playing Mickey Mouse will be able to greet each visitor by name, even wishing a Happy Birthday on that special day. Disney can give each visitor tailored opportunities to spend more and more while in the park and also after returning home.

So, what is the connection of Disney’s billion-dollar wristband project to Obamacare? It is a simple reminder that even one of the largest, most successful, and experienced consumer-service companies cannot bring out a massive new computer-based system without confronting and fixing a multitude of unplanned kinks.

If we can understand why Disney might not get it exactly right on the first try, we should give Obamacare a little slack, too.


D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

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Lessons from Disney World for Obamacare

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