Sebelius in Ohio: ‘HealthCare.gov Is Up and Running’
Except when it's not.
October 18, 2013 - 10:00 am
So how’s that HealthCare.gov working out for you? To hear Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, talk, the website is just humming along and everything is peachy. (I’m sure all Americans breathed a sigh of relief when they found out the Obamacare enrollments would continue unhindered during the Great American Shutdown of 2013.)
Sebelius joined a panel at the Columbus Metropolitan Library this week to discuss Obamacare’s impact in Ohio. She said her trip to the state was part of the “final phase” of implementing the law. I thought the final phase was when you gave your grandma the pain pill instead of letting her have the heart operation, but maybe that’s the final final phase of Obamacare.
Anyway, the HealthCare.gov website has been widely criticized since its October 1st launch with complaints of long wait times, crashes, buggy architecture, and security concerns. Sebelius addressed some of those concerns during the panel in Columbus.
“There is no question the website had a rocky start and I am first to say we wish it could have been a lot smoother from day one,” Sebelius said. “I can tell you it’s a whole lot better today than it was two weeks ago and HealthCare.gov, the website, is up and running. It will get better each and every day.”
Sebelius defended the decision not to delay the launch of the obviously not-ready-for prime-time website. “I think people have waited for decades for affordable health care,” she said. “We had a responsibility to get that product to them as quickly as possible. Waiting for another season would be totally unfair to those who have been desperate for affordable health care.” The subtle message seems to be that it’s better — more fair, even — to have crappy government services that don’t actually work than no services at all. This is the best we can aspire to in America in 2013.
Sebelius blamed the problems on the popularity of the new healthcare exchanges: “I think it shows there’s pent-up demand.” Sebelius said they would not have been able to identify all the bugs in the system “unless millions of people flooded the marketplace.” Pent-up demand? Pent-up demand is when your team hasn’t been to the World Series in 50 years and tickets go on sale at midnight and 100,000 people flood the Ticketmaster website at the exact same moment to get a coveted ticket. Or on Black Friday after Thanksgiving when Walmart offers a great deal on the latest TV model and shoppers trample one another to be the first to the electronics section. I don’t know about where you live, but here in Ohio, people are not trampling one another to sign up for their forced government health insurance.
According to an internal government memo obtained by the Associated Press, HHS expected 13,300 Ohioans to enroll by the end of the first month. But CareSource, an Ohio insurer, told the Columbus Dispatch that though it has enrollees from six different regions of the state, the company has only seen “double-digit” enrollment to date.
Sebelius said the system had been pressure-tested at five times the highest volume that the Medicare.gov website had ever seen.
The Washington Examiner reported that a person familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Obamacare website project suffered from “top-level management disarray, changing systems requirements and recurring delays.”
The root cause of the problems was a pivotal decision by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials to act as systems integrator, the central coordinator for the entire program. Usually this role is reserved for the prime information technology contractor.
As a result, full testing of the site was delayed until four to six days before the fateful Oct. 1 launch of the health care exchanges, the individual said.
IT experts have said that the problems cannot be attributed to overloaded systems alone, as Sebelius and others have asserted.
Jyoti Bansal, the founder of AppDynamics, told the Washington Post,
“That seems like not a very good excuse to me. In sites like these there’s a very standard approach to capacity planning. You start with some basic math. Like, in this case, you look at all the federal states and how many uninsured people they have. Out of those you think, maybe 10 percent would log in in the first day.” Bansal said that you model for the worst case scenario to “come up with your peak of how many people could try to do the same thing at the same time.”
Bansal added, ”It’s a bug in the system, a coding problem.”
I wrote about my difficulties logging onto the site a few days after its launch. In addition to the long wait times, I experienced problems with the password and login and pages that led to nowhere. I decided to try again today to see if it is “a whole lot better today than it was two weeks ago,” as Sebelius claimed.
While I didn’t have to wait in line to get to the login page this time, once I entered my login and password, I was taken to this page:
Don’t see it? That’s because the HealthCare.gov site is not actually working “a whole lot better today than it was two weeks ago.” Once again, it led me down a rabbit hole of white nothingness. I wonder if those individuals Sebelius described as “desperate for affordable health care” are faring better than I did this week.