The Deadline Arrives

It’s December 1.  Normally that wouldn’t mean much, except for a turn of the calendar page.  This year, however, it’s a bit different, because it’s been established as the date by which the healthcare.gov website is supposed to be operating at some reasonable level of functionality.

It’s not entirely clear what standard of performance will be the measuring stick; if you listen to different members of the Obama Administration, the goals seem to be a bit of a moving target.  But back when the healthcare.gov website was a crashing, frozen embarrassment, the Administration set November 30 as the deadline.  Now we can expect the website to be the most scrutinized, evaluated website in the history of computers.  There will be a huge spike in usage today, caused in large part by hordes of journalists and bloggers and curious folks who just want to see what the fuss is all about.  You have to wonder — how many of the people on the website are actually using it for its intended purpose of trying to shop for health insurance, rather than messing around trying to see what causes an error message?

We can expect lots of stories about the website over the next few days, from all points along the political spectrum.  Progressives will rave about how much the website has improved, and conservatives will focus on its remaining failures.  The website story will be treated like a horse race, with winners and losers.  In the meantime, average Americans everywhere should be asking how this happened, and why we are spending so much money to fix a website that clearly shouldn’t have been so poorly designed at the outset.  On that latter point, the New York Times has an interesting piece about how the failure happened and how the Obama Administration reacted.  It’s not an attractive story.

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Questioning The Architecture Of The “Obamacare” Websites

The Affordable Care Act health care exchange websites continue to be plagued with problems, beyond the first-day “glitches.”  The Obama Administration says it’s due to heavy traffic.  Now Reuters has published an interesting article suggesting an alternative explanation.

Reuters interviewed IT experts who question the very architecture of the federal health care exchange website.  They believe that the website simply requires computers to load too much software and information, overwhelming the system.  One expert found that clicking “‘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,” including 56 JavaScript files and plug-ins that allow data to be uploaded.

As one expert explained it, the massive volume of data moving between computers and servers resembles a computer hacker attack on a website — except this attack is self-inflicted, as part of the website’s basic design.  If the experts are right, the website designers made a very fundamental, almost amateurish blunder.

The bottom line from these experts is that the solution is not simply adding more servers, but reconfiguring the system.  That possibility would involve more expense, and delay, and frustrations for people who are just trying to comply with their legal obligation to obtain insurance.