Why the Obamacare site is not working.

I hadn’t thought of this situation, only because I didn’t have enough imagination to see that politics trumps all with Obama.

A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.

This just didn’t occur to me. It should have. After all, what was Benghazi about ?

This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.

It is just amazing that the politicians know so little about technology (this was the guy with the Blackberry who made fun of McCain) that they did not understand that saying something doesn’t make it happen.

The federal government’s decision to force people to apply before shopping, Weaver and Radnofsky write, “proved crucial because, before users can begin shopping for coverage, they must cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors including CGI Group Inc., the healthcare.gov developer, Quality Software Services Inc., a UnitedHealth Group Inc. unit; and credit-checker Experian PLC. If any part of the web of systems fails to work properly, it could lead to a traffic jam blocking most users from the marketplace.”

Jay Angoff, a former federal official at the agency that oversees the exchange, told the Journal that he was surprised by the decision. “People should be able to get quotes” without entering all of that information upfront.

And so it goes in Obama’s America. It is also a shame that the GOP was as ignorant of the prospects for failure as the Obama people. Had they known this, they might have chosen another tactic.

They knew that their people on the front lines, people like Henry Chao, were worried that the exchanges would get botched. They saw the Congressional Research Service memorandum detailing that the administration has missed half of the statutory deadlines assigned by the law. But they were more afraid of the P.R. disaster of crashing websites than they were of the P.R. disaster of disclosing Obamacare’s high premiums. What you see is the result.

Anybody still wondering why NASA was tasked with outreach to Muslims ? Why the tech billionaires support these dummies is still a mystery. Maybe it really is because their wives are obsessed with abortion. Or gay rights, as the case may be.

There is more to the story.

The most central name in the list of contractors, and the one most closely identified with the outward failure of Healthcare.gov, is CGI Federal, which the Sunlight Foundation describes as “a longtime provider of IT services to the federal government.” Most of CGI Federal’s previous work centered around technology services for Medicare and Medicaid. According to the New York Times, CGI Federal claimed many problems stemmed from the way the government itself managed the process, including the in-house coordination of the project between subcontractors rather than having a separate contractor do the coordination itself.

All the same, CGI Federal — which received $88 million for its work since March of this year — told Congress in September it was indeed ready for the onslaught of users that would come when Healthcare.gov opened to the public. The same was claimed by UnitedHeath subsidiary Quality Software Services, another partner in the project that received $55 million for its work.

Well, alright then. No problem ! The plot thickens. The rats will be running to the lifeboats the next few months.

UPDATE: Here is a representative chart:

PenGun ? Program that.

26 thoughts on “Why the Obamacare site is not working.”

  1. My daughter’s health insurance would have doubled and a bit, by signing up for Obamacare – which is what I have been reading in news stories about people who did sign up for it, or get a quote. The sticker shock is epic. People cannot rationally afford it – and that is what might sink it for good and all.
    If I were paranoid though – I’d be wondering if it wasn’t calculated to fail, so everyone would be stuck with single-payer anyway. Incompetence or calculation?

  2. They’re expecting the spinmiesters in the media to make it all go away. Current problems will be minimized and scoffed at, then later, down the memory hole, like it never happened. Do you know what year it is? 1984.

  3. “Because it’s not really a health care plan, but a tax on lower & middle class”

    Little doubt some of the Earned income Tax Credit will be siphoned away from working poor families and back towards the treasury as a result of Obamacare. That might be not become widely apparent until tax season 2015.

  4. Also, when people do sign up and then decide not to buy a policy or are unable to,
    their personal information will immediately be added to the list to be subjected to fines.
    This saves the IRS a lot of hassle come tax time.

  5. I am gradually coming to the conclusion that Ted Cruz and company were in fact quite correct in the path they have chosen, up to and including the shutdown.

    Here’s the deal. The absolute generalized analysis, certainly among the beltway and moderate GOP, is that, in the current world, media coverage of the Obamacare fustercluck can be quantified as ‘X’. And, were it not for media oxygen being consumed by shutdown and debt issues, were that not the case, then media coverage would be ‘X times 2, or times 3’. Thus, it was all a terrible strategy and a mistake.

    But what this analysis fails to account for is, what if under that alternate reality, media coverage (and/or impact of same) of the fustercluck would still be ‘X’? The rest would just be consumed by something else, from UN or Syria issues to Redskin names or today’s Khardashian or what all. It seems GOP the critics are falling for Lucy’s football again in assuming that, somehow, someway, in some dimension, when the facts fall the GOP’s way, the mainstream media will have to report it all straight and fairly and the people will then draw the right conclusions. The fail is in not acknowledging the fact that, whatever might lead people to draw such conclusions will be obfuscated by wast swaths of our media world, no matter what. It is not their job or duty to inform us, it is to “lead” us to the right path, and of course no right path could ever, under any circumstances, be provided by any Republican and/or conservative. That is simply a non-starter.

    But Cruz and co have hammered the country coast to coast with a two by four. “This law is WRONG, and it will NOT WORK no matter how many lies are told about it, and we WILL fight it to the death, and we are not asking for permission to do so.” If the ACA works, then Cruz and co (and a lot more) will look like fools. Any bets on that happening? And if people across the board come to the conclusion that is is not working, that they are paying way more than they were told they would have to, that it is a fustercluck on an epic and unprecedented scale, etc etc…. well, exactly what about these days today will they be remembering? Conversely, if the GOP had gone along to get along and “let it fail”… how would that be spun by Dems and media (redundant) in the end? “Oh, it looks like “WE” ALL (everybody) made some mistakes here, mistakes compounded by those vicious Republicans (who are really at fault), and since “WE” all (you, me, everybody) went a little awry in a good cause, now you just have to listen to “US” (ahem, Democrats, OFA, et al) for the new path forward. And you know what? They’d say it, and they’d make it stick, certainly in much of the media world.

    Cruz and Co have made that much harder now.

  6. Dr. Kennedy – Last month, I asked why Obama, Pelosi, and Reid had chosen not to extend Medicare down, despite the obvious political advantages.

    Here’s my tentative conclusion:

    “My guess, and it is only a guess, is that they rejected extending Medicare down because the cost estimates were far too high — and, even worse from a politician’s point of view, couldn’t be hidden.

    But, if they are going to increase the medical services offered to the uninsured (and many of the insured), then the costs are going to be, very roughly, about the same as they would have been with a Medicare down strategy. But many of those costs will be hidden in individual, business, and state budgets, rather than presented openly in federal budgets.”

  7. Sgt. Mom said: “If I were paranoid though – I’d be wondering if it wasn’t calculated to fail, so everyone would be stuck with single-payer anyway.”

    I am paranoid enough.

  8. Yikes! My post up there was at 11:03 central. Four minutes later, Master Limbaugh spent 20 minutes saying the exact same thing! Great minds, etc.

  9. Take a look at this question on a Java help site. It is on September 4 and the program for which the asker is trying to get help is THE OBAMACARE WEBSITE ! Whoever it is doesn’t know enough about Java coding to make it work. Any more questions on why the site doesn’t work ? This was less than one month before rollout!!!!

    All I can say is OMG !

    Note the code: gov.cms.ffe.ee.applicant_eligibility.extension._1.ObjectFactory.createExchangeAssignedPersonIdentification(gov.niem.niem.niem_core._2.IdentificationType)
    at gov.cms.ffe.ee.applicant_eligibility.extension._1.ObjectFactory

  10. You lot have never coded a back end. You have never had to handle a massive surge when a service opens for business, you have no idea.

    It was obviously badly done but that’s normal in this world’s internet. The problem appear to stem from bad load balancing and IT people should be fired.

  11. You lot have never coded a back end.

    I haven’t designed a submarine, but if the Navy’s latest submarine sinks during its sea trials I might reasonably infer that there were design errors. I know more about database programming than I do about submarines.

    “Badly done” isn’t acceptable. This isn’t some low-rent commercial site selling time share rentals or discount sex drugs. This system was forced on the population, more than half of whom have been against it from the start, based on the barest transient political majority that no longer exists. Its proponents insisted it was going to work great and that we would come to favor it as we learned more about it. The opposite has been true. Its design was crippled from the start by profound incompetence, corruption and the malicious hubris of its backers. “Bad load balancing and IT people should be fired” — do you realize how stupid this statement is? Who do you think designed the system and hired those IT people? And why do you think they hired those specific IT people? Stop trying to prove your knowledge of piddling details and think about the big picture for a change, if you are capable of it.

  12. Micheal I ran servers for many years. My carnagepro site was originally a code and computer site with advice and code for all.

    I can write useable HTML and my site is all my code but my strength was backend code which I really had a lot of fun with. When I discovered I could call any *nix program from a PHP script I went a bit crazy. I actually wrote a functioning youtube back when all we had was phone modems. It would accept most video and then with ‘mencoder’ hack it into the vid I wanted to display.

    I can even do load balancing with Squid but I am in no way good at that stuff.

  13. Jonathan you want blame for political reasons, fair enough, but large IT projects almost always have a stack of failure when they are rolled out.

    From what I can understand about what happened, the system was overwhelmed. That often points to poor load balancing which is essential in huge stuff like this.

  14. “the system was overwhelmed.”

    PenGun, I’m sorry but that statement has been widely disputed by the programming community, of which I was once a part. The reasons why it has been overwhelmed are political. The administration chose to bar users from getting quotes before they had entered all the personal information which required a very complicated process involving contacts with dissimilar systems in other agencies.

    This is not good practice. For your own reasons, you seem to prefer lies to truth. You are spouting the HHS line, which is being widely dismissed as excuses. Lots of big programs have heavy loads when first made active. Did Apple crash when the iPhones were released ?

    You statement puts your claims of expertise in doubt. I don’t want to call you a liar but, then, we don’t really know who you are, do we ? My history is available to anyone. Yours ?

  15. Wow. “Did Apple crash when the iPhones were released ?” Right you have a deep understanding.

    Oh well you can believe what you want. My site is open to all and it’s not hard at all to find out who I am.

    I go by the name PenGun because of three reasons. The Penguin/Linux thing which have I used since I quit using Windows at NT 3.51, the Quake video game part of my site which was quite active once and my ability to find and kill bugs in code. Carnagepro refers to both the video game part and the churn of code writing, debugging, rewriting … oh wait you were a code monkey too, or so you say.

  16. ” oh wait you were a code monkey too, or so you say.”

    Not of your erudition, by any means. I do know what databases do and have done a few front ends. Most of my expertise, if you would call it that, is from 50 years as a physician. After I retired from surgery after a spine fusion, I went back to school and did a lot more programming. Simple stuff, like SAS, to study health care outcomes. Then I worked for workers comp insurance reviewers and companies for another 20 years.

    Your turn.

  17. It would be interesting to know what was done in the way of analytical modeling, simulation, and/or load testing to estimate the performance of this web site.

    It would also be interesting to know what are the contractual provisions binding the contractor(s) who actually developed this thing….are there performance warranties, and what are the remedies for non-achievement of same?

  18. Mike, I like this comment from that link:

    He said it could take three years or so before the marketplace’s problems are fully sorted out.

    I think PenGun should volunteer to get it fixed. After all, the prime contractor was Canadian.

  19. “Did Apple crash when the iPhones were released ?”

    The answer to this question, BTW, is yes. Apple had a backend file-sharing service, let’s see “Mobile Me.” Jobs apologized for its poor performance.

    Never debate with even a quasi-expert like PenGun about minutiae of any kind. It’s like talking to a gun nut. You’ll lose the true, broad point you wish to make in the false leaves of minutiae, to wit: if the backend couldn’t be programmed in three years (never mind that it can’t be programmed at all-IMHO*), then the implementation date should have fallen after extensive testing.

    The Obama administration, in its technological ignorance (lawyers: law isn’t math or physics or code, to them only law is important; too bad reality can’t smack ‘em around more often), apparently thought it’d all work well the first time, the government equivalence of “it worked on my computer.” A reasonable plan would have run existing systems in parallel with the replacement systems until the new systems were proven to work. That’s how competent software engineers do it real life. In government…, well, I need only point to reality.

    If a company released a pre-Alpha version as the final version, it would be go out of existence. I can only hope and assume that expert PenGun, too, wishes the government to cease to be, the right and proper end to this mess.

    Now the government can make reliable software that works, well, most of the time. NASA/JPL et. al. do it every year because the code runs on Mars and in space near Titan. But by their coding, testing, and implementation procedures, Obamacare would be implemented in 2025. Or later, after cost over-runs and delays.

    * the idea that lawyers write laws to the logical and mathematical clarity that code requires is obviously and demonstrably false.

  20. Gruray is correct. ACA/OBAMAcare is and always was meant to be a massive tax increase on disproportionately Republican and Independent middle class households, physicians and small business to give a huge amount of their hard earned money to Democratic Party constituent groups, big business corporate donors and crony capitalist allies of the administration. The GOP cared mostly that big business, especially major insurance companies, do well out of it.

    This would have never flown as a straightforward income tax increase on the middle brackets. If you control how money is spent, for whom and on what, higher premiums and coercive rationing of medical care works just as well and is far more opaque, hidden in layers of complexity and waste.

    Middle class voters need to wake up that both parties screwed them and see them as stupid sheep to be sheared. And the Cruz and Palin Right made the shutdown the story rather than the ACA roll out and ginormous costs while strengthening Obama politically. As that outcome was foreseeable, you have to ask yourself how serious about reversing this any GOP member of Congress is?

    I would suggest, not very.

  21. “you have to ask yourself how serious about reversing this any GOP member of Congress is?

    I would suggest, not very.”

    Politicians of either party are not very swift about technology. They do stupid stuff all the time. Mark Twain referred to politicians as the “only hereditary criminal class” we had. What had not occurred to him was the result of putting them in charge of the economy, health care and personal privacy.

    I’ve talked to politicians about health care. They have no idea how it works. Just like Stalin trying to run a tractor plant.

  22. The medical device tax is a good example. Earlier in the year, the Senate passed a non-binding vote with bi-partisan support to repeal it. When the issue came up last week, the repeal fell by the wayside. Once a tax comes into place, it’s next to impossible to get rid of it.

    Large corporations can absorb the tax and have lobbied for loopholes to soften the blow, so small and medium sized companies will feel the brunt of it.

    The tax applies to US companies and also foreign imports, but, with a nod to mercantilism, it doesn’t apply to exports.
    So while they can say that it doesn’t give device companies an incentive to move operations overseas, it does give them a big incentive to bypass the Obamacare debacle and sell their devices outside the US. The result is less innovative devices for American consumers and further degrading of overall healthcare.

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