October 8 2013

Healthcare.gov: A Hot Mess

Patrice J. Lee

It’s bad but that’s good. That’s how the White House tried to spin the failings of healthcare.gov, the ObamaCare website, and the slow healthcare enrollments to-date since ObamaCare went live one week ago.

The White House acknowledged that it needed to fix the design and software problems that have plagued the system since it went live on October 1. Despite work over the weekend, there still appears to be little difference.

We reported that when the exchanges went live, healthcare.gov and state exchange websites would be fraught with issues and potential security risks. After all, the Administration missed a number of website testing deadlines in an effort to meet its self-imposed deadline. And that is what happened.

Some experts blame the breakdown on a shoddy website design and structure:

The website is troubled by coding problems and flaws in the architecture of the system, according to insurance-industry advisers, technical experts and people close to the development of the marketplace.

Among the technical problems thwarting consumers, according to some of those people, is the system to confirm the identities of enrollees. Troubles in the system are causing crashes as users try to create accounts, the first step before they can apply for coverage.

Experian LC, an information-services firm, holds a federal subcontract to support that system. The company declined to comment.

Information technology experts who examined the healthcare.gov website at the request of The Wall Street Journal said the site appeared to be built on a sloppy software foundation. Such a hastily constructed website may not have been able to withstand the online demand last week, they said.

Engineers at Web-hosting company Media Temple Inc. found a glut of stray software code that served no purpose they could identify. They also said basic Web-efficiency techniques weren't used, such as saving parts of the website that change infrequently so they can be loaded more quickly. Those factors clog the website's plumbing, Media Temple said.

 

The White House attributes the website breakdown to the nine million unique visitors looking to enroll in healthcare as of last Friday. That’s a big number but how many reporters, strategists on both sides and regular Americans visited the website out of curiosity and with absolutely no intention of signing up for healthcare? The Administration can’t or won’t release that conversion figure or any enrollment numbers.

White House spokesman Jay Carney stumbled over his words and flipped furiously through his notes as he briefed reporters on ObamaCare enrollment week 1:

When it comes to enrollment data — you know, I want to clear this up — we will release data on regular monthly intervals, just like was done in Massachusetts and just like what was done in and is done when it comes to Medicare Part D.

What I can confirm right now is that people are signing up through federal exchanges, but we’re not going to be — you know, we’re — this is a(n) aggregation process, and we’re not going to release data on an hourly or daily or weekly basis. We’ll follow models that have existed in previous programs, including a similar program in Massachusetts, including Medicare Part D, which is the most recent federal example of this kind of thing, and release enrollment data on regularly monthly intervals.

Again, this is — these are — these are — this is large volume. There’s no question that there’s large volume. And we’re — and these are rough estimates about the volume. One of the reasons why we’ve been able to — or why we’ve provided the information about the volume is because — that it is the principal reason why we’ve had slowdowns and other issues that we’ve had to try to resolve to make the consumer experience better.

So the White House is already saying that they don’t know how many people have enrolled and even when they have that data they will sidestep regular transparency and release aggregated numbers when they want.

Perhaps the reason they aren’t releasing the numbers is because of how paltry they are. According to insurance-industry experts, the web-traffic issues are only allowing a trickle of buyers through the system with large insurers seeing only hundreds of enrollments.

This would be a good joke if it wasn’t at the expense of the American public’s freedom and wallets. We are paying for something that the majority of American’s don’t want.

And now for the icing on the cake: Carney said engineers have added a virtual “waiting room” to handle the heavy traffic due to the poor website design. Well, if that isn’t an omen of things to come, I don’t know what is?

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