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Healthcare.gov — The bad, the bad, and the ugly

Healthcare.gov — The bad, the bad, and the ugly

Remember, we had to pass the law to find out what was in it.

I’ve been covering the ongoing issues with the Obamacare website in the days since its glitch-filled launch, which you can read here, here and here.  From day one, the Obama administration has spun the problems as a good thing, blaming all the site’s technical misfires entirely on high traffic volume – demand that it claims was beyond its expectations.

As I’ve written in all of my posts on the subject, I’ve been highly skeptical of that claim and have provided numerous citations, as well as some of my own commentary, to support such skepticism.  I ended one of those posts by writing, “While some media outlets have focused on the long wait times, very few are actually breaking down the glitches and testing the administration’s claims that volume is solely to blame.”

Well, that has certainly changed since I wrote it.

Even technology blogs have finally jumped into the mix to start breaking down some of the technical issues, many with headlines like:

To start, I caution on that reported $634 million figure above.  In looking at the source cited in the article, it appears to me that it could contain additional work that was not necessarily directly connected to the Obamacare website, as well as projects awarded to the same contractor (CGI Federal) before Obamacare was passed into law.

There were actually multiple contractors involved in the development of the website; CGI Federal is but one of those, having reportedly developed components of the website’s backend.  The NY Times recently reported that “CGI had received $88 million for work on the federal exchange through March, while Quality Software Services [the company operating a “data services hub” for the government] had received $55 million for work on the data hub.”

And we learned from the Washington Post yesterday that a firm called Development Seed designed the front-end component that handles the screens you see when you click on the “Learn More” link.

Before large contractors took over, a small firm called Development Seed laid much of the groundwork for the site that millions of Americans are trying to access today. It spent four months, starting in March, as a government sub-contractor, building the version of HealthCare.Gov that launched in June. Their work remains the home page of the newly launched Web site.

Development Seed is by no means the entire force behind the massive Web site. A bigger company, CGI Federal, developed the back-end functions where people create accounts and find out if they’re eligible for coverage. CGI has declined requests for comment.

Some of the likely communication and testing challenges between some of those contractors were aptly covered by David Auerbach at Slate.

Using multiple contractors for different components on a project of this size and scope is not an unusual practice.  It makes a project more challenging, but when carefully coordinated and tested collaboratively, a project with multiple contractors can succeed.  But much of that success hinges upon good planning, clear requirements and thorough testing, among other things.  As is a common saying on technology projects, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

And as we’ve seen from multiple reports, it’s unclear whether any of that planning was anywhere near adequate.  As the entity defining the project, I think the government needs to bear some of the responsibility here.

Where was the planning?

According to an article cited in a post I wrote the other day, participating insurers and others apparently warned administration officials before the site’s rollout that it was experiencing issues.  From the Washington Post:

Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.), who played a key role in passing the health-care law and has worked on its implementation, said he told White House officials early this summer he had been hearing from insurers that the online system had flaws.

“Nothing I told them ever surprised them,” Andrews said in an interview. “The White House has acknowledged all along something this massive was going to have implementation problems.”

Two allies of the administration, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the controversy surrounding the rollout, said they approached White House officials this year to raise concerns that the federal exchange was not ready to launch. In both cases, Obama officials assured them there was no cause for alarm.

Robert Laszewski, a health-care consultant with clients in the insurance industry, said insurers were complaining loudly that the site, www.healthcare.gov, was not working smoothly during frequent teleconferences with officials at the Department of Health and Human Services before the exchange’s launch and afterward. “People were pulling out their hair,” he said.

A report in Forbes also commented on the issue of testing (among several other issues), saying, “It has become abundantly clear that the site was never stress-tested under anything like the type of load it is encountering.”  This is an issue I addressed in my skepticism of the administration’s claims that it wasn’t prepared for such high volume.  The administration had to have known how many people it was hoping would sign up through the exchanges and the Obamacare website, so why weren’t volume issues discovered long before launch?

And two days ago, I pointed out that the administration apparently didn’t have important documentation reviewed and disseminated prior to the website’s launch, highlighting yet more of the woefully inadequate planning.

Contractors of course bear responsibility for their performance on this project.  But the administration should be just as much to blame.  The launch of the Obamacare website seems to have been driven by hard deadlines, without equal consideration for well thought out details and planning important to its success, including making sure that end users had what they needed to help make it a success.  Meanwhile, whatever the true costs in the end, it is the taxpayers who will bear the brunt of any of its failures.

Remember, we had to pass the law to find out what was in it.  Planning for the website to support the law seems to have been governed in much the same way.  Just get the site launched, we’ll worry about those pesky glitches later.

As Professor Jacobson wrote earlier today, this administration hasn’t seemed concerned about the site’s readiness, only that it exists.

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Comments

“…we had to pass the law to find out what was in it.”

Well, not being a green-eye shade kinda thinker…

I could tell you what was in it on a global level.

Crap. Front, back, and in the middle.

Gee, so how many workers are needed to make a dysfunctional computer program? Evidently far too many. Good luck with that single payer too because that has a snowball’s chance in hell of working.

NC Mountain Girl | October 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm

How many people in this administration feel compelled to produce results as opposed to political rhetoric? Obama’s lack of accomplishment is well known. Like Obama, there is no private sector experience on Sibelius’s resume. It is hard to imagine a less competent crew yet they all think they are really, really smart. Add in their relentless focus on settling scores rather than day to day administration and this was inevitable.

I suspect there is one reason we are hearing about this in the news. All those vendors are desperate to let their customer base know “It’s not out fault!” These stories are originating on tech sites and from there go to the legacy media, sometimes through reporters who cover economic/tech issues. The narrative is well developed before the political editors even known about them.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to NC Mountain Girl. | October 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Learned many years ago in my software engineering days about the Mythical Man Month. Doubling resources doesn’t cut the time to implement an engineering project, and esp. a software project in half. The (imperfect) analogy used was that nine women couldn’t cut the time it took to have one child to one month by combining efforts. Much of the software development process cannot be done in parallel, and a bad design just makes this worse. And, while the history of government computer projects is replete with massive failures, this is likely to be one for the record books.

2nd Ammendment Mother | October 10, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Question 1: Who is providing all of these “phone bank” people to deal with the calls regarding resetting passwords?

Question 2: Among other things, I wonder what happens to purchasers when errors occur in their coverage. We’ve had the same auto policy for years with the same insurance company. However, I check it carefully every time they send us our new policy. Almost routinely, there is at least one significant error in who and what is covered.

Question 3: When the inevitable identity theft occurs, who will make the taxpayer – who was forced, under threat of the IRS to turn over their personal information – whole and take responsibility for the breaches?

CGI Federal has the smell of another cash pass-through front for Obama Con like unions / ACORN (newly incarnated as “navigators” and whatever) / Solyndra / and so forth.

legacyrepublican | October 10, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Just as an observation, I think the Congress is forced to fund it, they should require that they cannot accept funding unless they drop the www and make the actual URLs oxymoron.healthcare.gov, whenyoucangetit.healthcare.gov, takeapill.healthcare.gov, deathpanel.healthcare.gov, loseyourdoctor.healthcare.gov, and justdie.healthcare.gov.

They should also require that, like cigarettes, that every claim form the government requires of an insurance company place on their forms a disclaimer like “The Affordable Care Act doesn’t guarantee that the insurance company will cover your healthcare or medicare costs and that you will receive the full benefits you have signed up for under the ACA. The ACA only guarantees that you may be covered. In fact, the ACA requires that your healthcare benefits be rationed and they reserve the right to refuse benefits for anyone under any plan if they deem those benefits too costly and further deem those benefits marginal and unprofitable, regardless of what your healthcare professionals determine is in your best interest.”

UKDM scoops American publications again.

Only 51G signed up in the first week according to sources in the DOH who have seen the raw numbers..

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2452537/Administration-sources-Obamacare-website-received-just-51-000-completed-insurance-applications.html

    2nd Ammendment Mother in reply to wyntre. | October 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    The question being whether 51000 people tried to execute policies or 51000 created accounts to be able to “shop”…. or 51000 are lost in authentication errors and will be reset?

Federal Universal Care Kaput Ultimate Protection

theduchessofkitty | October 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm

In the private sector, if a contractor had made $600 million building a website with more holes than Swiss cheese for a billion-dollar worth company, you would have seen that company sending forth their shark attorneys to that fraud faster than you can say, “ready, Aim, Fire!”

If an individual had made such a website for a company, that person would have ended up homeless by now.

But again, The One and his honchos never had experience in The Real World beyond Marxist Academia. They think of the private sector as The Enemy. But Reality has an interesting way of bubbling up to the surface. It always has.

The new Homepage of Healthcare.gov

(404 refers to the Web Page unavailable error 404)

http://i840.photobucket.com/albums/zz322/Paul_Hook/HealthcareGov_zpsd7d2310a.jpg

I have always said that the most relevant part of the obamacare story is that infamous sentence by nancy pelosi:

You have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.

Each and everyone of the legislators who voted for that atrocity betrayed their constituents. We don’t elect legislators to vote for laws they don’t understand. We hired them to fully study and understand what they are voting for or against. In this case, they didn’t even bother to at least pretend to consider our best interests.

It is shameful. They all should be fired.

“… this administration hasn’t seemed concerned about the site’s readiness, only that it exists.”

Sounds like the entire theme of this administration and the President in particular.

Does anyone think that Obama or Dems in congress care about these problems and “glitches”. Those without employer provided health care have no choice but to get HC thru Obamacare, not like they can go elsewhere. If “customers” don’t like it tough shit, tell your Navigator or go without insurance and pay the penalty. After seeing how Obama turned Park Service employees into thugs during shutdown and the pathetic performance by “reporters” at Obama press conference we’re in for 3 very long years where we will no longer recognize our country at the end of his administration.

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