New plan on Healthcare.gov: Declare victory … and fix it later
posted at 12:31 pm on November 30, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Well, I guess it beats explaining why the Obama administration failed to meet yet another of its deadlines in getting a 42-month web-portal project to work. According to the Washington Post, the White House will announce tomorrow that the Healthcare.gov site has been fixed, even though the site won’t actually be fixed — not even by the administration’s own metrics:
Administration officials are preparing to announce Sunday that they have met their Saturday deadline for improving HealthCare.gov, according to government officials, in part by expanding the site’s capacity so that it can handle 50,000 users at once. But they have yet to meet all their internal goals for repairing the federal health-care site, and it will not become clear how many consumers it can accommodate until more people try to use it.
As of Friday night, federal officials and contractors had achieved two goals, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss ongoing operations. They had increased the system’s capacity and reduced errors. On the other hand, the site’s pages do not load as fast as they want, officials said, and they are working to ensure that large numbers of consumers can enter the site.
An official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the federal health insurance exchange, said the site’s true capacity is somewhat murky because workers need to see how it performs under “weekday traffic volumes” when demand is at its peak.
What exactly constitutes success? Jeffrey Zients declared a month ago that the web portal would be “fully functional” by tomorrow. This past week, though, Kathleen Sebelius moved the goalposts about 80 yards by promising only that consumers would “have a significantly different user experience by the end of this month.” The Post splits the difference, although noting that the White House has been slippery on what exactly constitutes success:
Administration officials have said for several weeks they define success as having “the vast majority of users” be able to navigate the site and sign up for insurance. While they initially did not define what that meant, White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this month that the administration’s aim was to have 80 percent of users enroll through the site. Those working on the project have set speed and error rates as a way of measuring that goal.
Industry observers are less than impressed with the new metrics for success:
However, problems continue to plague the system, and technology experts question if the fixes being deployed by a team of government workers, outside contractors and specialists can get it functioning smoothly as soon as Saturday.
Luke Chung, president of Virginia-based software developer FMS Inc., called the administration’s prediction that HealthCare.gov would work at 80% capacity on or around November 30 an impractical threshold in the software world.
“I don’t know how to build something that’s only 80% complete,” Chung told CNN. “I don’t even understand how that works.” …
Meanwhile, insurance industry insiders told CNN on condition of not being identified that problems continue with the transmission of data submitted by people signing up for coverage through HealthCare.gov.
“There’s no part of us that thinks all of this will be fixed in three days from now,” an industry official said, referring to the November 30 date for the site to run smoothly for most users.
In other words, we’re about to see the second beta release of Healthcare.gov. Don’t you just love it when software companies use a release as testing for failure thresholds? I guess you can’t find out what’s in Healthcare.gov until you release it … just like a couple of months ago, it seems.
You couldn’t find out overnight, though, because the system was down:
The entire ObamaCare Web site was suddenly taken down for 11 hours — from Friday night into Saturday morning — just before its long-awaited relaunch.
Officials said the extended shutdown, which began 9 p.m. Friday, was required to get the site ready to accept double the number of applicants starting Saturday.
“We have more upgrades that require more time,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the problem-plagued portal.
The site has been taken down before, but usually only for four hours between 1 and 5 a.m.
Even before the unexpected move, health-industry experts were skeptical that the fix that’s supposed to produce a “new and improved” site Saturday would be the game-changer President Obama has promised.
And just how confident is HHS in the fixes? This confident:
“There are 23 shopping days in December [until the deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1]. No need to rush,” Sebelius advised in an attempt to avoid a panicked rush of the uninsured on Saturday.
Don’t forget that all of this is just to get the front end working. Does the subsidy payment system on the back end even exist yet? If not, then the 23 shopping days are meaningless, because insurers might not provide coverage without full premium payments.
Maybe the White House should declare victory and depart the field altogether.