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Rick Moran

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October 5, 2013 - 8:58 am

Reuters asked 5 IT experts to look at the Healthcare.gov website and give their analysis of the system.

What they found will not restore anyone’s faith in government:

Government officials blame the persistent glitches on an overwhelming crush of users – 8.6 million unique visitors by Friday – trying to visit the HealthCare.gov website this week.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw development of the site, declined to make any of its IT experts available for interviews. CGI Group Inc, the Canadian contractor that built HealthCare.gov, is “declining to comment at this time,” said spokeswoman Linda Odorisio.

Five outside technology experts interviewed by Reuters, however, say they believe flaws in system architecture, not traffic alone, contributed to the problems.

For instance, when a user tries to create an account on HealthCare.gov, which serves insurance exchanges in 36 states, it prompts the computer to load an unusually large amount of files and software, overwhelming the browser, experts said.

If they are right, then just bringing more servers online, as officials say they are doing, will not fix the site.

“Adding capacity sounds great until you realize that if you didn’t design it right that won’t help,” said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality. “The architecture of the software may limit how much you can add on to it. I suspect they’ll have to reconfigure a lot of it.”

“Reconfigure” may be an understatement:

One possible cause of the problems is that hitting “apply” on HealthCare.gov causes 92 separate files, plug-ins and other mammoth swarms of data to stream between the user’s computer and the servers powering the government website, said Matthew Hancock, an independent expert in website design. He was able to track the files being requested through a feature in the Firefox browser.

Of the 92 he found, 56 were JavaScript files, including plug-ins that make it easier for code to work on multiple browsers (such as Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer and Google Inc’s Chrome) and let users upload files to HealthCare.gov.

It is not clear why the upload function was included.

“They set up the website in such a way that too many requests to the server arrived at the same time,” Hancock said.

He said because so much traffic was going back and forth between the users’ computers and the server hosting the government website, it was as if the system was attacking itself.

Heh. The attack of the killer Obamacare computer. It sounds like a great sci-fi movie theme. But as a system that must be user friendly, not so good.

And from the way the IT experts are talking, it doesn’t sound like the glitches are going to be fixed anytime soon. It is apparent that there are fundamental flaws built into the software that may require substantial redesign in order to make it work. That’s not going to happen over the weekend during this blackout period.

People who have tried to access the site have not only been frustrated in being able to sign up. There also appears to be a possibility that at least some of the information being given out is incorrect.

Breitbart:

On Thursday, the government’s official Obamacare Facebook page was riddled with people expressing sticker shock over the government’s high cost premiums after struggling for hours to wade through the technical failures vexing Obamacare exchanges all across the country.

“I am so disappointed,” wrote one woman. “These prices are outrageous and there are huge deductibles. No one can afford this!” The comment received 169 “likes.”

“There is NO WAY I can afford it,” said one commenter after using the Kaiser Subsidy Calculator. “Heck right now I couldn’t afford an extra 10$ [sic] a month…and oh apparently I make to [sic] much at 8.55/hour to get subsidies.”

Another person shared a link found on the federal government’s main Obamacare page listing premium estimates for small business employers:

The information is not very complete as I don’t see anything about deductible or other detailed info, but it does given an actual price as to the “Premium.” It is VERY SCARY!! For example, my insurance plan right now for my spouse and I costs $545 a month with 100% coverage after my $2500 deductible. We are both 32 years old. When I looked at this site for 80% coverage it says it will be $954.78 a month!!!! So compare my old Plan: 100% coverage for $545 a month To New Plan: 80% Coverage for $945 a month. This is only only an estimate but it is VERY Scary for me to see this kind of increase in rates and reduction in benefits!

A single mother of two said she is in school and working full-time while living “75% below the poverty level.” She said she was shocked to learn she did not qualify for a healthcare subsidy. “Are you F’ing kidding me????” she wrote on the government’s Obamacare Facebook page. “Where the HELL am I supposed to get $3,000 more a year to pay for this ‘bronze’ health insurance plan!?!??? And I DO NOT EVEN WANT INSURANCE to begin with!! This is frightening,” she wrote.

Since Americans are eligible for subsidies if they are making less than 144% of the poverty level, someone who makes $8.55 an hour is clearly eligible.  Is the system telling the customer that he isn’t? Perhaps the customer is eligible for Medicaid in his state. Does the system inform the customer of that option?

The bottom line: If people can’t use the exchanges to sign up, they don’t get subsidies. And if enough healthy people don’t sign up, the whole rotten edifice comes crashing down, doomed by its own incompetently designed infrastructure.

One last point: The feds had three years to design this system. Why is no one asking what they were doing all that time? The truth is, before they could design a system, they had to know what was going into it. And that problem can be traced directly to the political motivation to delay much of the implementation of Obamacare until after the election. Once insurance companies were able to figure out what they had to include in coverages, they could estimate premium prices. Recall the sticker shock when those figures came out earlier this year. Now imagine them coming out last summer before the election. Obamacare would have become an issue as it was in 2010 — something the Obama campaign was desperate to avoid.

We will have to go through these technical problems again next year when the employer mandate is added and all of that data pours into the system. And don’t forget that the small business exchanges aren’t even completed yet.

Tell me this isn’t a government operation.

 

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
There's an even more fundamental problem than the political self-interest: it is almost impossible to generate "design specs and details of what the software was to accomplish..." in government. Very few in government have any clue why they do what they do, the purpose of whatever activity they engage in. Government work is so incrementalized that it is like the old-fashioned assembly line in which the guy's job was putting the lug nuts on the left rear wheel and that was the only job he ever did and the only part of the vehicle he ever saw.

Until you get to the top of the career supervisor and management ranks, everyone just progresses by being a superclerk; you know your systems, you know your rules, regs, and standard operating procedures and if you don't really, really screw up and live long enough you'll go from Widgetmaker I to II to III, to IV, to Widgetmaking Supervisor, to Widgetmaking Manager, to Regional Director of Widgetmaking. Somewhere in there when your retirement is secure and the date is less than an administration away, you go to a cocktail party, write a check, and if you wrote it to the right person and for the right amount, you become an appointee in the Department of Widgetmaking, but you still don't know jack about why widgets are made.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
They only had three years to prepare for the launch of the Train Wreck and they weren't ready.

Compare to the state of play three years after Pearl Harbor (12/7/1941-12/6/1944). We went from a nation at peace to a nation with a multi-million man army fighting its way through France on its way to Germany, after conducting the largest amphibious invasion in world history six months earlier. We went from a nation at peace to one that was flying B-29s out of Tinian on bombing runs over Tokyo.

Meanwhile, this Train Wreck is the Crown Jewel of the most incompetent Administration in U.S. History. If this crew of intellectual mushrooms ever tried to fight a real war, we'd be under enemy occupation in six months.

What a Putz.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"What they found will not restore anyone’s faith in government:"

Unless that faith is in expecting Soviet-level inefficiency, duplicity and misanthropy.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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As for the person who is at 75% of poverty level being ineligible for subsidies, that is EXACTLY how the law was written. I have no idea why, nor can I even come up with any sane rationalization for it. If ANY group needs subsidies to help pay the incredibly high costs of this program it should be those BELOW the poverty level not just some of those ABOVE it. Maybe the great brains who though this thing up thought everyone below the poverty level was eligible for and enrolled in Medicaid. That just shows how LITTLE the people who wrote this plan understood about healthcare in this country.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"CGI Group Inc, the Canadian contractor that built HealthCare.gov, is “declining to comment at this time,” said spokeswoman Linda Odorisio."

A Canadian company got the contract to write this thing? I would think this to be one of the ultimate Buy American purchase items not to mention that we should ensure that the programmers who build this know they will have to live under it.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The GOP never realized that the easiest way to ''defund'' Obamacare was to simply overload the online application system. However, it appears the Democrats
have done that to themselves. It also is probably a paradise for hackers to try to
access all the links that Obamacare goes to, such as the IRS, HHS, etc. and these two points may be part of the reason so much trouble is being encountered.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are some interesting posts on this around.
http://developmentseed.org/blog/new-healthcare-gov-is-open-and-cms-free/

Sounds like some good concept BUT - they also posted the source code for the open source community? Really? Is that even a good idea?

I wait for some more informed voices to analyze this from the outside. I know how to run Fiddler, a little, ...

http://developmentseed.org/blog/2013/06/25/healthcare-launches-in-the-open/

So, it sounds like this poster was actually involved. He says:

"We're incredibly proud to have been a part of this project, working with a visionary and dedicated team of government staff and partners on something that will be as impactful as it is innovative. As Alex Howard cites Eric: This is our ultimate dogfooding experience. We’re going to build it and then buy insurance through it."

Yeah, when some 23 yo project manager starts talking about the ultimate dogfooding experience, us old folks know EXACTLY how that's gonna work out. Woof-woof.

41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The arrogance of those in power will ultimately sink their aspiration to monitor and control the lives of all Americans.

I know nothing about IT architecture, but I know a lot about bureaucracy. And I bet that many savvy IT pros were shoved aside when they protested how this system was designed.

I am certain that Obama was surrounded by a bunch of "can do" know-nothings. Now he stuck with defending a massively expensive failure. Shame on him for believeing more in a circle of fawning ideologues than those workers who will ultimately be blamed for the failure.

The American public should simply opt out. And let the pols explain themselves, and their partisan mess.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...overwhelming crush of users..."

That would be amazon.com, ebay.com, facebook.com, youtube.com, etc., all of which seem to do just fine, even when they don't have the unlimited resources of the US government.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is it beyond reason that the Obamacare website wasn't built for the current older generation, but for a future generation, one that knows all about the different aspects of browsers, how to scan and transfer computerized documents, etc? The feds don't care if someone doesn't sign up, they will still get their fee. They are assuming people are going to continue to file their taxes like good little boys and girls.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder what happens if your PC still runs on Windows XP, which can not support the most current IE browser.

Plus, I had a PC bluescreen meltdown in February, but was able to use my old laptop, with Windows ME (!) and 42kps dial-up connection to still do my online banking while the excellent guys at PC Warehouse in a strip mall fixed my desktop.

Those two financial websites are designed for all customers, not just the ultra-high speed digiterati.

Anyone know why this was outsourced to a firm from CANADA????
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Think about it: a good, fast, efficient, and user-friendly computer system at work at this task would only swamp and crash the whole thing faster.

The problem with Obamacare isn't the computers and IT. The problem with Obamacare is Obamacare.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is impossible to put in binary or fuzzy logic a 3,000 pages "law" accompanied by 7ft of regulations who, most likely, contradict each other. That combined with shoddy execution and contracts awarded to political cronyism have lead to the disaster Obamacare has unfolded into.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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