One week into its launch, the Obamacare website continues to struggle with glitches, even after some weekend downtime that was supposed to start addressing some of those issues.
Information technology experts have been skeptical of the administration’s claims that all of the technical issues have been due solely to unexpected overwhelming demand.
As I mentioned in that prior post, many have remarked that at the very least, the issues have revealed a lack of planning if volume truly caught the administration so off guard.
The Washington Post reported today that many remain locked out of the federal health-care website, including health insurance companies.
Health insurance companies also are continuing to have trouble accessing the parts of the federal Web site on which they need to rely to find out who has enrolled in their health plans and to get payment information. A few days into the launch, one major Blue Cross plan said the part of the Web site used by insurers “was unresponsive most of the day.” And even the Web site that was continuing to run tests on the system’s ability to convey enrollment and payment information to health plans was only “periodically available,” according to an insurance industry executive.
In the week since the federal exchanged launched, would-be customers have not been the only ones frustrated by the computer systems on which it relies.
Some insurance brokers have been stymied in getting authorization from the federal government to sell the health plans available through the exchange. “Agents are having just as much trouble accessing the online sites as consumers are,” said Kathryn Gaglione, a spokesperson for the National Association of Health Underwriters.
That might explain, in part, why the administration can’t give any official numbers on successful enrollments overall. But good luck getting any straight-forward answers from the administration. Even The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart couldn’t get any straight talk from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on his show last night.
Yesterday, the NY Times reported that the health exchange delays were tied to a software crash in the early rush, offering the first glimpse of additional technical details from officials on the project.
But there were a few paragraphs near the end of that article that particularly caught my attention.
As the engineers for the contractors struggle to recover from the Web site’s failures, officials said, the partial shutdown of the federal government is also hampering efforts to carry out Mr. Obama’s health care law and has slowed work on a federal insurance marketplace for residents of more than 30 states.
All insurers participating in the federal exchange have been assigned an account manager, who serves as the primary point of contact with the exchange. The account manager is supposed to assist insurers, clarifying their responsibilities and answering questions about the federal Web site, enrollment transactions and other operational matters.
But many of the account managers have been furloughed in the shutdown.
The Obama administration has drafted a manual describing operations of the federal exchange, including the enrollment process. But federal officials said the shutdown had delayed a final review of the manual by lawyers and other federal employees who have been furloughed.
The Affordable Care Act was passed over three years ago. The federal government has known since then that launch day would arrive. With any system of this magnitude and so many cooperating resources, documentation is typically a major component of the launch preparation. You make plans for how to handle certain situations in the instance employees or capabilities – online or offline – become unavailable, among other things. And in most of these types of projects, participating stakeholders do review and sign off on such documentation – that can include anyone and everyone from legal counsel, customer service managers, IT managers, sales/account managers, partners and suppliers, marketing, and more. That’s all a process that’s done well in advance, before a system launches. In most company launches of this magnitude, no approved final documentation, no launch.
I will grant insurers and even the administration that the unavailability of account managers due to the furloughs might hinder the process some. But how is it that review of “a manual describing operations of the federal exchange, including the enrollment process,” has been delayed by the shutdown? Why was such documentation not already approved and disseminated long before now?
The Washington Post article mentions that the federal government didn’t definitively know until earlier this year that it would be operating the exchanges for as many as 36 states. So I will even take that into consideration. Maybe the administration didn’t have a full three years to know exactly what to plan for. But weeks before the launch, one would expect that such documentation would have been complete. That being the case, then why launch without enough time to have such documentation approved and disseminated?
As the NY Times wrote, “outside experts said that White House officials should have spent more time tending to the computer code and technology of the Web site, rather than recruiting Hollywood celebrities to promote it.” Those experts may be right. I’d add reviewing documentation of the processes to that equation.
To blame the lack of such documentation on the shutdown just seems unacceptable. The fact that the administration has blamed all of the Obamacare website’s technical glitches on overwhelming demand beyond their expectations has already revealed a woeful lack of planning on their part, if that’s even the sole reason (I remain skeptical). That approved documentation of an operations manual has been delayed by the shutdown only further emphasizes that lack of planning.
If the government hasn’t been able to adequately plan for the launch of the Obamacare website, I shudder to think what else we don’t know about yet that hasn’t received the necessary attention in planning.
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