Failure To Launch: Why The Obamacare Website Is, Quite Frankly, A Mess

Obamacare website

If you ever wanted to observe a real-time experiment in media bias, you could have followed the launch of the Obamacare website. Support and derision fell along predictable lines and the truth, as usual, fell somewhere in the middle. Heck, even The Inquisitr has columnists who think that the Affordable Care Act is the greatest thing since Kate Upton and others who believe they’ll be lining up for $600 flu shots in a brutal, Mad Max-style America any day now.

With the media so busy telling you what to think instead of providing you with good information, well… it can be hard finding said good information. Lucky for you, I care very little about this issue, and I found some good stuff about Obamacare’s launch that you may enjoy!

It’s pretty much undisputed that the launch of the Obamacare website didn’t go very well. Glitches, crashes and slow load times have made it anywhere from difficult to impossible for people to shop for affordable healthcare. While Republican politicians and pundits hail this as the first symptoms of an unmitigated policy disaster, Democrats are tugging on their collars, reaching for a glass of water, and saying that everything is fine.

But forget the politicians and the pundits. A New York Times profile on what went wrong over at interviewed insurance executives, contractors, current and former government officials and consumer advocates to put together a decent picture of Obamacare’s failure to launch thus far.

“But insurance executives, government officials… those sound like the bad guys! Why should I trust them?” Because they’re also the people who are handling your healthcare now, their agenda is getting it right. On the insurance side, the motive is trying to figure out how to maintain profit, while on the government side the motive is avoiding embarrassment. They’re not like the politicians and the pundits who treat the ACA like a mythical beast. They know it’s real and they’re working non-stop trying to figure it out.

So if you ask me, it takes more faith not to believe them when they say:

“The extent of the problems is pretty enormous.”

Along with the reports from officials involved, the NYT performed an examination of confidential administration documents which shows that several financial, technical and managerial shortcuts led to the roll-out woes. Remember, Obamacare was delayed by the administration several times already in order to get more presentable (and to get past election season). Some of the reports suggest not that they didn’t take it seriously, but that they were in over their heads from the start.

The most immediate problem is poor website design. This report by Richard Pollock claims that federal officials didn’t do much shopping for a web designer. Instead of opening the contract to competition, Health and Human Services just accepted the first bidder – CGI Federal.

Why or how GCI was selected is unknown, and officials have refused to comment on whether other firms attempted to compete with their bid, but what seems to count is that the Fed only considered CGI and bought what they built, despite the fact that the company has a sketchy history when it comes to IT pricing and contract performance.

Another huge problem is the login process. While it’s pretty much accepted that you’d need a private account to operate the marketplace, the amount of personal data you have to enter for account creation creates a massive traffic bottleneck when you log in.

The NYT report reveals that the project was massively underfunded, as well… even though it cost a whopping $400 million to put it together! Finally, the outside contractors that helped put it together are already starting to distance themselves from it, fearing professional fallout. CGI, the core contractor, has publicly said that it just supplied the framework (for a pretty $94 million) and that the Medicare and Medicaid agency integrated and tested it.

So, why didn’t the Fed take the roll-out more seriously?

Some say that there are political motives afoot. That’s likely, heck it’s probable, but we won’t get into those right now. The key thing about the flopped roll-out is this: These technical problems, whether they are to buy time for political reasons or just the product of naivety and laziness, will turn into economic and political problems if they’re not fixed fast.

Though Republican efforts to defund Obamacare are for naught, the legislation will still fold under its own weight if no one signs up for it. The marketplaces are open for several months before you have to sign up (or pay the penalty), but very few have actually purchased a plan (despite a reported hundreds of thousands who have visited and created an account).

But the key to Obamacare’s success is participation. Everyone has to sign up to keep the promised premiums affordable, and if they don’t, then only the sick and desperate will sign up, populating the program with only the most expensive to insure, which will then increase everyone’s premiums the next year.

So don’t let anyone fool you. Whether you want to sign up for Obamacare or not, it behooves the administration to intervene and solve the site’s problems yesterday. Otherwise, the ACA won’t need Republican obstructionism to kill it. It will consume itself.