IBJNews

Experts: Fix for $600M health care site needs more time, money

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Technology experts say healing what ails the Healthcare.gov website will be a tougher task than the Obama administration acknowledges.

"It's going to cost a lot of tax dollars to get this done," says Bill Curtis, senior vice president and chief scientist at CAST, a French software analysis company with offices in the U.S.

Curtis says programmers and systems analysts start fixing troubled websites by addressing the glitches they can see. But based on his analysis of the site, he believes the ongoing repairs are likely to reveal even deeper problems, making it tough to predict when all the site's issues will be resolved.

"Will it eventually work? Yes, because they have to make it work," he says. But it'll be very expensive."

Curtis and other technology executives say the site's problems are the result of poor management of its many working parts. They also believe, as Congressional testimony has revealed, the site suffered from a lack of testing once all its systems were in place.

The federal health insurance exchange website —which cost taxpayers more than $600 million to build, according to the Government Accountability Office— has been crippled by technical problems since its Oct. 1 launch. Since then, everyone from top White House officials to the contractors who worked on the site have been called before congressional committees to determine what went wrong and who is to blame.

The White House originally promised to have the site running smoothly by the end of November. But at a news conference last week, President Obama said he couldn't guarantee that the site will be completely bug free by then.

The HealthCare.gov site is supposed to serve as a marketplace where people can enter their personal information, search and sign up for required health care coverage. But the site is a patchwork quilt of sorts. It pulls together a slew of contributions from various government contractors and attempts to join the structure with the systems of participating insurance companies.

Experts say the amount of information coursing through HealthCare.gov dwarfs that of any other government website, making it more similar to a high-traffic e-commerce operation such as Amazon.com or eBay. They contend the government didn't design the site with the kind of retail-like infrastructure it needs to keep up with demand and failed to knit its pieces together in an efficient way.

Curtis says visible parts of the website's programming code reveal a host of analytic and data coordination failures — a red flag that the site wasn't designed by people with a lot of experience building high-traffic websites. He notes that government projects are typically awarded to the lowest bid, a factor that limits the amount of money a contractor can make. As a result, bid-winners don't always assign their top people to those jobs.

Himanshu Sareen, CEO of Icreon Tech, a New York-based web and mobile design and development firm, says the government has made some progress fixing the site in recent weeks, but there are still big problems. He worries that the website is operating at half the capacity that it needs to.

Indeed, fewer than 27,000 people signed up for insurance through the federal website during the first month of open enrollment in the 36 states, according to federal health officials. Nearly 1 million more applied for coverage and were waiting to finalize decisions.

Sareen says he's shocked that so few people have been able to sign up. He says the government should focus on fixing the website's telephone support centers, the place where many frustrated insurance seekers are looking for help.

Michael Smith, a vice president of product development and operations for Compuware Corp., says the site's operations have improved significantly. Recent testing of HealthCare.gov's visible parts done by Compuware APM show seven states with unacceptable response times, down from 26 states on Oct. 25.

Even so, Smith says the government needs to inform the public that it takes time and patience to fix problem websites.

"They're building something that's never been built before, so there's no prescription for how to do it," Smith says.

And there's no better way to improve public opinion than to fix the site as quickly as possible, says Wally Krantz, creative director for The Brand Union, a global brand strategy consultancy that works with clients ranging from Time Warner Cable to The Coca-Cola Co.

Krantz says people will forget about its technical problems once they get their insurance coverage.

"If they ultimately get the website working, it'll just be another thing that people who want it to fail will bring up," Krantz says. "I don't think this story has legs beyond that."

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Government Contractors
    Unless you are now, or ever were a government contractor, you have no clue what it is like to deal with the procurement process of the federal governments. Why are several state controlled websites fairing better than the Federal Website? Simple answer is "Bureaucrats" and a "Bureaucratic Process" that is older than frozen dinosaur meat. For kicks, you should download and attempt to understand a Federal Bid.
  • fix
    ...or a simple press of the delete button.

    Post a comment to this story

    COMMENTS POLICY
    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
     
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
     
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
     
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
     
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
     

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    ADVERTISEMENT

    facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
     
    Subscribe to IBJ
    1. I keep wondering why I keep hearing about this problem of corporations leaving America, and I never hear a reasonable proposal to lower corporate tax rates and raise personal rates on income from capital gains and dividends, especially for high earners. It is just too simple of a solution for Congress to embrace?

    2. Are you financially down and you need money to settle your dept,or you need money to start up a business or to invest on a huge business,we also offer Loans to individuals, Firms and cooperate bodies at low interest rate , loan terms determinant,Loan amount between the sum of $5,000.00 to $100,000,000.00. US Dollars And Euro. Loan for developing businesses a competitive edge/ business expansion. We Offer The Following Kinds Of Loans. Personal Loans (Secure and Unsecured) Business Loans (Secure and Unsecured) Consolidation Loan FIRST INFORMATIONS NEEDED ARE: BORROWER’S DATA’S INFORMATION,FILL AND RETURN FOR QUICK START UP PROCESS. Name:_________ Last Name:_________ Age:_________ Contact Address:_________ Country:_________ Amount Needed as Loan:_________ Loan Duration:_________ Phone Number__________ Monthly Income/Yearly Income:_________ Purpose for Loan:_________ Occupation:_________ How Soon is Loan Needed__________ Email via: albertbrownfirm@outlook.com

    3. is a disaster. SR37 already needs to be built to interstate standards between 465 and SR144. Southport Road is a mess each morning and evening.

    4. Bass Pro Shops would be good for the mall as well as a Giant Eagle Market District or a Jungle Jim's International Market Place grocery store like the one near Cincinnati Ohio.A Disney quest indoor theme park would be good.An Academy outdoor store would be good too.Indoor Circus shows and magic shows would be good as well. A casino with sports bar would be good.A Disney theater inside that shows movies and Broadway shows would work.Nashville Tennessee concert shops with indoor neon lights would be good.How about a theater that shows travel shows and theme parks. A train store would be good.How about a giant toy store with high tech video games.

    5. This development is in addition to Allpoints Midwest 5, Aitrtek, a recent FedEx and more in Plainfield. Greenwood and Brownsburg also have similar projects.

    ADVERTISEMENT