Obamacare’s IT disaster

One of the most public sides of the Obamacare debacle is its website, Healthcare.gov, which has been beset with near-constant user problems that have prevented interested parties from signing up for insurance coverage. While the White House has stressed that there were always going to be problems – just like any website, right? – new information has come to light that suggests senior administration officials were aware that the technical "issues" were going to be far more severe than was previously let on. Additionally, government documents show that the site costs hundreds of millions of dollars more than previously expected. This article will focus on some of the technical problems associated with Obamacare and shed some light on how the administration may have tried to ignore calls from IT and healthcare professionals about these concerns.

In December 2011, CGI Federal was contracted to build the Healthcare.gov website. A press release indicated that the initial cost was approximately $94 million. Records show that an initial disbursement of $55.7 million was discharged 15 days following the announcement. Over the next year and a half, nearly $600 million more was transferred to CGI Federal, including over $50 million in one week. While the company has so far declined to comment on the problems, according to The Daily Caller, White House officials continue to stress that these are just hiccups that will eventually go away.

Yet a report from The Washington Post suggests that there may have been signs the website was simply not ready for primetime. David Brailer, who helped coordinate IT services for the Medicare prescription drug division in the mid-2000s, told the source that the site was only built to accommodate 50,000 to 60,000 unique users at a time. What's strange about this is that many websites are designed to handle over 100,000 users during a consistent session, usually with little trouble. This suggests that the administration's contractor, CGI Federal, was either willfully negligent in its construction or failed to envision to scope of the sign-up period. 

Of course, one can only speculate as to why the government felt the need to shell out nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars on a website that is still locking out users, preventing those from seeing premium prices or even finding doctors in their network. However, statements from senior Democrats suggest that they remain nearsighted about the long-term ramifications of mandating health insurance, threatening fines for failing to purchase policies but absolutely dropping the ball when it comes time to actually offer ways to seek out coverage.

"We're eight days in and to be insisting on data being produced day by day for a six-month enrollment program, that is a little bit unfair," Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida (D) said in an interview.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner, while certainly not an unbiased politician when it comes to Obamacare, summed up the situation clearly in a recent press conference.

"How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn't work?" he asked rhetorically.

Will these issues be ironed out? While any tech launch has its problems, this one is unique as it seems that the system wasn't thoroughly means-tested, nor was it given a thorough run-down during the pre-launch phase this summer. Consumers should expect access to improve in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, those who actually want coverage are left waiting to see how much they are actually going to pay. Meanwhile, households and individuals buying insurance on the open market continue to see skyrocketing rates and outright cancelations due to the onerous demands contained in the Patient "Protection" and "Affordable" Care Act.