The fallout of the launch of the Obamacare website continues, and as the administration spins and deflects questions, media outlets are digging deeper for answers that are sure to bring new concerns to light. And that’s aside from all the other general concerns about the impact of the law itself.
The Washington Post came out with a report yesterday that contained a few key pieces of information that reaffirms what many have already suspected.
Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.
Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.
When the Web site went live Oct. 1, it locked up shortly after midnight as about 2,000 users attempted to complete the first step, according to two people familiar with the project.
Later in the report, it indicates that “U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park has said that the government expected HealthCare.gov to draw 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users but that the site was overwhelmed by up to five times as many users in the first week.” CGI, which worked on the shopping and enrollment applications, reportedly built it to accommodate 60,000 concurrent users, according to the Post.
As we’ve covered previously, load and stress testing on a project such as this is typically done well in advance – not days prior. Additionally, if a site expects to bring in up to 60,000 concurrent users, standard testing protocols would typically indicate multiplying that several times and testing with a simulated load of several hundred thousand users.
That the system failed tests at minimal levels days prior and someone in the administration decided to still move forward with the launch as planned is beyond comprehension. More importantly, I ask again, where was the planning?
The Washington Post continues with more, including this:
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency in charge of running the health insurance exchange in 36 states, invited about 10 insurers to give advice and help test the Web site.
About a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems, according to an insurance IT executive who was close to the rollout.
“We discussed . . . is there a way to do a pilot — by state, by geographic region?” the executive said.
It was clear at the time, the executive said, that the CMS was still dealing with the way the exchange handled enrollment, federal subsidies and the security of consumers’ personal information, such as income.
One key problem, according to a person close to the project, was that the agency assumed the role of managing the 55 contractors involved and had not ensured that all the pieces were working together.
Some key testing of the system did not take place until the week before launch, according to this person. As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.
Aside from reinforcing the concern that testing and planning were inadequate, there’s another concern highlighted by that excerpt: “the CMS was still dealing with the way the exchange handled enrollment, federal subsidies and the security of consumers’ personal information, such as income.”
This administration needs to remember that Americans are concerned about the protection of their personal information and privacy. I think the recent reporting on the NSA surveillance should only reinforce that.
The experiences with and numerous reports about all the issues surrounding the Obamacare website’s launch have certainly been frustrating even for supporters of the program. No doubt, the administration is likely concerned that many of the young consumers they need to sign up for plans won’t return to do so if the problems persist.
But what about the things that happen behind the scenes that we can’t see, and won’t see, even once all the so-called “glitches” are fixed?
The administration’s response to the debacle has been just as troubling as the problems themselves. It has been filled with spin and deflection and void of any open, straightforward answers.
President Obama has focused heavily on telling everyone all the supposedly great things the program can do for them. But as usual, he offers few actual answers of substance.
Politico made the following observation about the president’s Rose Garden speech Monday:
Here’s what he didn’t do: explain why those problems weren’t addressed before the Oct. 1 launch, why he didn’t seem to be aware of them before they went very public, or who would be suffering the consequences for any of it. He didn’t apologize. He announced, in broad terms, who would be coming in to help. But he didn’t say anything about who would be shown the exits.
His “nobody’s madder than me” Monday echoed the kinds of statements he’s repeatedly made about problems over the last few months — “Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it” (the IRS scandal), “It’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest” (the NSA scandal), “This is not a world we should accept” (Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons). He puts himself forward as a man frustrated with what’s happened on his watch, promising change, insisting that nothing of the sort could ever happen again.
That’s the point. The concern is in the responses to these crises.
For those who worried from the beginning, even before the launch of the Obamacare website, that the government might have issues with things like adequately protecting our personal information on this project, all the recent news reports do little to quell those fears. The administration’s response does even less to quell the concerns.
Meanwhile, it’s as though no one was in charge of this project.
After all the revelations about failures in basic things such as planning and technical competency, there has been little to date that gives many much confidence that other details have been managed any differently. Fixing what the administration likes to keep calling “glitches” is not necessarily going to restore the users’ confidence in the system’s less visible components, like data security, or that the administration has adequately planned for them. People want to understand what went wrong.
And this is probably most troubling of all for those who will be forced to purchase a plan through the program in order to avoid a penalty.