We’ve had plenty of evidence that the Healthcare.gov website issues go well beyond coding problems on the front end, where Americans create accounts before gaining access to the actual insurance-plan marketplace. The New York Times reports today that the marketplaces themselves are just as buggy — and that it might take weeks or months to get all the issues fixed:
Federal contractors have identified most of the main problems crippling President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, but the administration has been slow to issue orders for fixing those flaws, and some contractors worry that the system may be weeks away from operating smoothly, people close to the project say.
Administration officials approached the contractors last week to see if they could perform the necessary repairs and reboot the system by Nov. 1. However, that goal struck many contractors as unrealistic, at least for major components of the system. Some specialists working on the project said the online system required such extensive repairs that it might not operate smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January, although that view is not universally shared.
The scope of the problem is massive:
In interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.
“The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later,” said one person involved in the repair effort.
CMS, the agency at HHS responsible for the ObamaCare exchanges, is dragging its feet on change orders necessary to start correcting the front-end issues. That may be in part because the entire system is suspect. As other news organizations have already reported, the NYT confirms that the system passes bad data to the insurers, which means even those few people who have managed to buy insurance through the system may actually still be uninsured and not know it.
The Times makes the “complexity” argument:
One major problem slowing repairs, people close to the program say, is that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency in charge of the exchange, is responsible for making sure that the separately designed databases and pieces of software from 55 contractors work together. It is not common for a federal agency to assume that role, and numerous people involved in the project said the agency did not have the expertise to do the job and did not fully understand what it entailed.
We’ve argues all along that the government doesn’t have the expertise for this job — which is why ObamaCare would be such a disaster. But the complexity argument is nonsense. NASA managed to coordinate hundreds of contractors on space exploration, and completed the Mercury project and moved into the Gemini project in the same period of time CMS and HHS have had to launch a website.
Barack Obama will give a Rose Garden speech today that promises a “tech surge” to solve the problems:
The Obama administration has promised a “tech surge” to tackle the myriad technical issues that have plagued HealthCare.gov, acknowledging that the online health insurance marketplace “has not lived up to the expectations of the American people.”
“Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve healthcare.gov,” the administration said in a 600-word post that was published Sunday on the Web site of the US Department of Health and Human Services. “We’re also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of healthcare.gov where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site.”
Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal is skeptical about that idea:
Isn't the idea of a "tech surge" to fix http://t.co/wU1cars6RG BS? As they say, 9 women can't give birth to a baby in 1 month.
— Joseph Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) October 21, 2013
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) October 21, 2013
It’s doubtful that code patches will solve the problem, and the White House can’t afford a do-over at this point, which might take another three years. And even when they do get the site fixed, the escalation in prices, deductibles, and co-pays still await Americans consumers. It’s difficult to see how this could be any more of a train wreck.