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Obamacare website troubles began long before launch

Obamacare website troubles began long before launch

As the Obamacare website continues to struggle with issues since its rollout, more and more information is emerging that tells us the problems extend beyond “glitches.”

The NY Times published a lengthy article over the weekend, detailing more of the issues as viewed by various sources.  It further emphasizes much of what has been written here at Legal Insurrection on the subject: in addition to the technical issues and contractor woes, this is a project that had many troubles from the start.

For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

“These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’ ”

Interviews with two dozen contractors, current and former government officials, insurance executives and consumer advocates, as well as an examination of confidential administration documents, point to a series of missteps — financial, technical and managerial — that led to the troubles.

The Times article also notes that politics weighed heavily on the administration as the project moved along in the process.  Some rules were put off until after the elections, funding was hampered by the House, and the project’s scope was increased when dozens of states declined to participate in the exchanges, leaving the federal site to pick up the slack.

Realistically, these are issues that also exist in a similar fashion in the corporate world.  Even most large corporate IT projects fall victim to the demands of corporate politics and budget constraints in some way or another.  The key is in how you manage those challenges when dealing with the constraints of scope, cost and time in project management.  When one constraint is burdened, it affects the others and modifications often need to be made in order to keep the project in check.

All of that, especially when dealing with multiple contractors, can certainly be a challenging task.  It takes regimented management to keep such a project on track.  But as the Times revealed, even managing the project was an area of concern.

Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site,, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.

One highly unusual decision, reached early in the project, proved critical: the Medicare and Medicaid agency assumed the role of project quarterback, responsible for making sure each separately designed database and piece of software worked with the others, instead of assigning that task to a lead contractor.

Some people intimately involved in the project seriously doubted that the agency had the in-house capability to handle such a mammoth technical task of software engineering while simultaneously supervising 55 contractors. An internal government progress report in September 2011 identified a lack of employees “to manage the multiple activities and contractors happening concurrently” as a “major risk” to the whole project.

As we’ve written previously, there were warnings that things were not on track.

Despite those warnings, officials moved ahead. Even rolling out the project in stages was not an option, according to the Times, which notes that The White House specifically was calling the shots.

By early this year, people inside and outside the federal bureaucracy were raising red flags. “We foresee a train wreck,” an insurance executive working on information technology said in a February interview. “We don’t have the I.T. specifications. The level of angst in health plans is growing by leaps and bounds. The political people in the administration do not understand how far behind they are.”

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, warned in June that many challenges had to be overcome before the Oct. 1 rollout.

“So much testing of the new system was so far behind schedule, I was not confident it would work well,” Richard S. Foster, who retired in January as chief actuary of the Medicare program, said in an interview last week.

But Mr. Chao’s superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services told him, in effect, that failure was not an option, according to people who have spoken with him. Nor was rolling out the system in stages or on a smaller scale, as companies like Google typically do so that problems can more easily and quietly be fixed. Former government officials say the White House, which was calling the shots, feared that any backtracking would further embolden Republican critics who were trying to repeal the health care law.

That last bit is also interesting when you consider that the administration blamed the lack of approved documentation of the federal exchange operations on the government shutdown.

While it’s clear that some are gearing up to lay blame on the Republicans, I have to inject another small dose of reality again here.

IT projects come with critics; this is part of managing such a project.  In the end, it’s important to make smart project decisions and practice good planning, regardless.  Instead, now even supporters are expressing their disappointment in the launch, let alone the critics.

As I’ve written previously, some of the contractors will certainly deserve their share of blame.  And admittedly, government IT projects also come with their share of extra challenges.  This will be further complicated in coming weeks as contractors scramble to fix the technical issues, which always stands the chance of breaking other technical components.

But the public simply wants to understand what is going on in the meantime, as the clock ticks on the individual mandate.  As we’ve seen the responses from this administration, which repeatedly tells the public these are all just glitches due to the overwhelming demand for Obamacare – demand it claims was unexpected – it should be evident by now that no straightforward answers appear to be coming our way anytime soon.

Read the full NY Times article, it’s an informative read.


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You have to vote for it so that you can find out what’s in it.

The individual mandate will not be postponed.

You have to launch it even if it is not ready.

———- ——— ———–

Designed to fail?
Or just pure narcissistic egomania?

Retired SWQA / SWCM professional … would LOVE to audit their alpha, beta and regression test plans / records.

    Exiliado in reply to MrE. | October 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Good luck with that.
    As of right now such records, if they ever existed, are probably a matter of “national security.”

    We are not talking about glitches here. Glitches or bugs can be solved quickly. We are most probably talking about major design flaws. Patching is not gonna fix it.

      Likely there were few test plans and fewer records. A DOD contracted software system of this size would have been *years* in development and testing. Too bad the USAF/AFPRO wasn’t running the show.

      I’d settle for seeing their *integration* test plan and records. But they probably don’t have that, either.

    iconotastic in reply to MrE. | October 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm


    If final specifications were not produced until last winter/spring and the development was an old-fashioned waterfall, just how many functional tests do you think were even written (never mind specified)?

    Obviously the system had never been load-tested. Acceptance test? fuggedaboutid. After all, failure was not an option so it had to work, right? And it sounds like all the api tests with insurance vendors failed given the vendor’s constant warnings of impending disaster.

    And, since these idiots seem intent on reprising the history of software engineering, I predict a year or so of trying to test quality into the system before finally giving up and going to a 75% redesign-redeployment (presuming the system was federated–a big assumption I know).

    But imagine how many political contributions Democrats received from the contractors! Who says this project wasn’t a success?

    doubt there are any really. wondering if only testing was the EUAT done by insurance companies.

    From what this guy could see, it looks pretty sloppily done. They even left the “lorem ipsum” text in, in places:

    Obamacare Computer Code Riddled With Typos, Latin Filler Text, Desperate Programmer Comments and Disastrous Architecture

Bottom line: the Obama Administration is utterly incompetent. None of their “experts” has any real world experience; the lowest percentage of appointees with any private sector experience in nearly a century, they are all creatures of, by, and for government.

Ever since Plato’s Republic, the fallacy of every attempt to rule by experts is that there are no true experts, only some amateurs who think they are experts and can fool others into believing it.

    iconotastic in reply to Estragon. | October 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Unsurprising for a bunch of innumerate Lysenkoists who believe that simply ordering something was the same thing as making/proving it.

    The sad thing is that a majority of voters believe that these Democrats are anything other than crooks and traitors.

    NC Mountain Girl in reply to Estragon. | October 14, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Some of them are even more useless than creatures of, by, and for the government. I am speaking of the academic lounge lizards utterly lacking in real world experience. This type can write a dissertation on why something works. Just don’t expect them to be able to actually make a functioning version of anything.

    Archer in reply to Estragon. | October 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    My concise description of Obama, his staffers and appointees, and anyone who works for/with them has been and remains: the Administration of Amateurs.

    Most of them never worked in the private sector. None of them have ever produced anything of substance in their careers.

    There’s no innovation or real leadership there; just a bunch of perpetual middle-managers who think themselves CEO-material, and who suddenly have the power to restructure everything to make themselves unaccountable-yet-indespensible.

Perhaps THIS was’s process flow chart? I first saw this cute cartoon in the late 1970’s while working on the E3A/AWACS project:

Oh good grief:

Exciting new high-tech solution to ObamaCare website disaster: Paper applications

Actually, my headline’s incorrect. “Solution” suggests that people are now being successfully enrolled via paper applications. Not so. Turns out that the info on those applications needs to be input into the same wheezing, error-riddled computer system that’s forced website users into using paper in the first place. The “solution,” in other words, is simply to create a paper backlog that will need to be manually entered into the ObamaCare database by the insurance companies themselves if/when the system ever becomes stable enough to let them do that. How long will that take? How much extra labor will it involve? Good questions.

So you have to go somewhere and fill out a paper application, and leave it with an unvetted “Obamacare Navigator” (what could go wrong??), and then at some point if they ever get the computer system working, they’ll enter all that data for you (not making any typos, of course!), into the same system no-one has been able to get into yet. And then, maybe in a month or two, you’ll find out what insurance you’re going to be forced by law to buy, and how much it’ll cost you.

And all this is supposed to give us confidence that it’s A Good Thing to let these same mopes be in charge of all Americans’ health care?

It is probably fortunate for the average consumer that the site does not work. Those that have been able to go through the process and did not like the products and decided to shop elsewhere have been hit with fines. I have seen recently that one poor sole received a bill for $95 from the IRS with a promise of more to come and another was hit for $4000 per year. I hope you’all like your socialism and your fine socialist president, I certainly don’t.

    Those that have been able to go through the process and did not like the products and decided to shop elsewhere have been hit with fines. I have seen recently that one poor sole received a bill for $95 from the IRS with a promise of more to come

    That doesn’t make sense.

    (1) You’ve got till next year to get insurance to avoid the fine,

    (2) and it doesn’t have to be insurance from one of the exchanges.

      Exiliado in reply to Amy in FL. | October 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      It doesn’t make any sense, but 3 minutes into this video, a caller to the station claims that’s exactly what happened to him.

        What can I say? I’m skeptical about his story.

          its probably safe to be skeptical, however consider the system supposed to also query IRS then its plausible (not sure I would call it probable) unenrolling/cancelling triggered the individual mandate flag on IRS end.

          Aridog in reply to Amy in FL. | October 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm

          I’m skeptical about these assertions myself, I have sufficient experience to say, No. 1, they don’t use email to notify of anything. Certified mail or personal visit is how it is done. Been there, sdone that, got the tee shirts.

          Also, when you sign on this this mess, one of the early questions is “do you have employer health insurance now?”

          Now, if you answer “yes”, you will eventually be told you do not qualify for a subsidy. Nothing is likely to follow that. If you answer “no” and subsequently decide to opt out…well surprise, you’ve just added your name to a list of potential “violators”…in short, it is not bright, in our world today to muck around with the bureaucracy if you don’t really really need to do so.

          I believe the application process asks for an email address, and with that any schmuck at the “Navigator” level could send you an email with threatening language.

          First rule of dealing with the IRS for anything over $5000…hire a tax lawyer….and then sign nothing, NOTHING, you get in the mail until it is vetted by your lawyer…and in most cases your lawyer will deal with the IRS and not you.

There is no healthcare in Obamacare. There never has been.

    Radegunda in reply to Ike1. | October 15, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Well, it was ruled to be a tax, wasn’t it?

    Everyone thought the penalty was the tax. But another tax is the greatly higher price we’re forced to pay for something we used to get for a somewhat reasonable price. That price differential pays for a “subsidy” for someone else. It’s wealth redistribution, disguised as “you can keep your plan if you like it.”

2nd Ammendment Mother | October 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm

So, I’m seeing stories that the part of the program that verifies the federal subsidies is where the ‘bottleneck in the hub” is occurring…. but didn’t they say a month or so ago that they wouldn’t be using that part of the system and just let everyone be on the honor system for reporting their income for subsidies.

    Yes they did. Another term for that largess, that only lasts until 01 Jan 15, is called “sucker bait.” Go ahead and lie, and down the road they have your Heiny in a vise.

    This whole PPACA is about power, not health care, and it intends to make all y’all serfs tow the party line.

2nd Ammendment Mother | October 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm

We knew that part… but if they aren’t actually verifying income for subsidies….. then that part of the program isn’t what is causing the “bottleneck”…. look here, not there.

By this time next week we’ll all be laughing at the naysayers on the right; won’t they be surprised? Well, I have to get back home to my butterfly ranch.
/sarc off lorem ipsim

If you haven’t checked out the link in AMY in FL above posted at 2:05, you may want to… I wonder if the Republicans are REALLY mad at Ted Cruz because they knew this would be a massive Cluster FFKK and Ted was getting in the way of it imploding…

Note that this rollout is for the easy part, imagine how it will be when the claims for care start rolling in, the accounting starts up and starts getting all of those centralized medical records and must approve each splinter being removed and the debates in DC over whether a needle or tweezer should be used.

Then there will be the leaks of 1,000’s of STD tests with emails to your wife along with the survey results of all of the “how many partners have you had” questions for your daughter.

Hippa was created for privacy, to ensure that the ER won’t tell you your son is in room C, but there is the exemption for the feds to publish all without recourse.

There has been a commercially viable health insurance web site that has been doing exactly what ObamaCare’s website wants to do. Check out Bizzyblog’s article on Mind-Boggling Incompetence:

The Obama administration and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apparently had no interest in determining the best practices for setting up a health insurance purchasing website before plunging ahead with Obamacare’s.

If they did, they might have considered starting at, which went live in 1998. A quick visit there reminds one of how ridiculously simple all of this currently is — and very soon won’t be:

Once you realize everything was CHEAPER from a FREE website compared to currently taxpayer taken hostage run malfunctioning website called you begin to get the full scope of how truly incompetent liberal run programs are. We rejected HillaryCare back in the 1990s because we knew anything government run would be pure incompetence and now that we have HillaryCare II, aka ObamaCare and have proof positive that anything government run is pure incompetence.

And these people are supposed to be making life and death medical decisions based on treatments that are cost effective????

You can still get NON-ObamaCare health insurance cheaper than what ObamaCare offers up until Dec 15, if you don’t have health insurance, get it now. Register your thumbs down vote by enrolling in non-ObamaCare policies young people. It is the ultimate in civil disobedience to the group demanding you must do something or else.