The drama of the HealthCare.gov Ad Hoc team is now a modern tech fable: a small cadre of young geeks from Silicon Valley and President Obama’s election campaign parachute into the federal bureaucracy to rescue the site and help exceed the goal of 8 million insured households nationwide. But even as they worked 80-hour weeks to salvage the botched creation of thousands of technocrats employed by 55 different contractors, another drama was occurring in stealth. Members of the Ad Hoc team were already looking ahead to the next version, recruiting a second wave of programmers drawn from startups as well as larger companies like Google.
That team, officially dubbed Marketplace 2.0, is creating core features of the next generation of HealthCare.gov that will debut when the next enrollment period begins November 15. Key upgrades include a simpler interface for a majority of users, a more robust plan comparison tool, and a new login system rebuilt from the ground up. The effort doesn’t deal with components like rating engines, tax credits and financial management; instead it focuses on making it easier for applicants to connect with insurance plans. Officials at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outlined the key pieces for WIRED:
Application 2.0: This is the new front end for the application, including a component that determines an applicant’s eligibility for a plan. Though the underlying logic is the same as the recent one developed by the Ad Hoc team and used by more than 5.45 million people in the first go-round, the 2.0 team aims to create a simpler, more efficient user interface designed to boost the percentage of visits that lead to health plan subscriptions. Officials estimate that about 35 to 40 percent of applicants with more complicated household situations will still have to use the more painstaking process from the 2014 enrollment period. But these officials see the new system eventually handling a broader range of scenarios. Application 2.0 is also designed to work more effectively when applicants use mobile devices. More than a fourth of those who enrolled in the first sign-up period came to the site through mobile devices.
The administration might want to rethink making the website and mobile apps functional. The tech difficulties gave them a lot of cover for all of the awful things happening that were central to the law, like premiums going up and policies being canceled. Obama partisans hit television news barking “Web site!” like a trained chihuahua choir and drowning out the more serious problems.
As we roll towards the second round of open enrollment, the news isn’t improving much.
The site may be more functional for Round Two, but will anybody like what they find out from it?