Why the new ObamaCare website is going to work this time

After the open enrollment period, the team got the go-ahead to proceed, and Marketplace Light was redubbed Marketplace 2.0. The CMS hasn’t decided whether those who signed up last year will have to re-enroll, but certainly there will be millions more trying to sign up for a new plan, perhaps their first. (Meanwhile, HealthCare.gov continues to take applications from new Medicaid recipients and people whose circumstances justify a change in health plans.)

The team plans to roll out changes throughout the summer and early fall, testing with A/B software and then quickly make fixes and improvements. Though this is standard practice in Silicon Valley, it’s fairly novel in government.

Perhaps the biggest step towards reliability involves the data center that will run these new parts of the system. The 2.0 team has convinced CMS to host parts of the new HeathCare.gov on the same flexible infrastructure used by smart tech companies, from tiny startups to Netflix: Amazon Web Services. This was not an easy sell due to government concerns about security. The usual process for government data operations makes it incredibly difficult to secure all the servers that may be needed at a given time. Government workers must first obtain authorization by calling the data center and making a formal request that specifies the number of servers needed and the programs that will run on them. This cumbersome procedure makes outages inevitable during peak periods. In contrast, as the Marketplace Light engineers knew well, with AWS the entire process is automated. When Amazon’s system detects a surge, it provisions enough computing power to handle the bigger load.