mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Time is Quickly Running Out for ACA Website Fixes


HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was back on the Hill this week to testify about the Affordable Care Act exchanges, and her words were not reassuring to those who hoped the website would soon be functional. According to the WSJ, Sebelius said “contractors need to fix a couple of hundred problems and ‘we’re not where we need to be.'” A story in the WaPo added some extra bite to the Sebelius comments: now that some of the initial problems with the site have been improved, if not fixed, new problems are popping up that nobody knew about until this past week.

So when Sebelius says the site needs to fix a couple of hundred problems, that number could very well continue to climb as more and more errors are discovered on the back end of the site. No wonder the number of people surfing the site, no to mention enrolling, still remains very low.

The key question since the beginning of Obamacare’s website woes was always how long the problems would last. The longer the site malfunctions, the more likely the implementation morphs from a PR disaster into an existential threat to the ACA. One crucial deadline is the mid-point of this month. As Megan McArdle put it, by that date, “almost all the experts I’ve heard say we really need to be running at full speed, to handle the crush of applications sure to come between Thanksgiving and the mid-December deadline for buying insurance that starts in January.”

We’re rapidly approaching that window and this new testimony suggests that the administration is still floundering to make the site work. The administration has two or three weeks to make those “couple of hundred” of fixes—plus the ones it doesn’t yet know about—or the law will be in a bad position indeed.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Bruce

    Assuming they get this web site fixed, the law will be in a worse position next year when people receiving employer provided healthcare either get their policies cancelled and are told by their employer to go to the exchanges or the employers have to drastically increase premiums. Both things will happen and the number of people it will happen to will increase by tens of millions versus individual policyholders that are getting it now.. The system was not functioning well before, but 85% of the populace was content with their coverage. These guys blew up the whole system to allegedly correct it for the other 15%, but by the time it’s over, more than 15% will be in bad shape. One does have to question motives. These people are ideologically rigid, but they aren’t stupid. Are they really surprised? Of course not.

  • Mark Mazer

    “or the law will be in a bad position indeed”

    Well, no WRM. Those of us that had insurance and will be without on 1/1/14 will be in a bad position. I had an individual
    insurance plan, even with pre-existing conditions, that is out of business upon the New Year (Inclusive in NC). Willing to commit civil disobedience to protest GK Butterfield’s and Kay Hagen’s malfeasance. Spitting mad. This will not be pretty. Can’t tell you how many hours I have tried to get somewhere in the hellhole of the ACA rollout. My computer skills are pretty good, been at it since the days of punchcards.

  • Matt B

    As an experienced software developer and project manager, let me offer my professional opinion: we’re doomed. The idea that Kathleen Sebelius has a “punch list” of defects to resolve is laughable. That analogy is from construction, where the building is largely done but there are a number of minor jobs that need to be completed. The better analogy here is is trying to drive a car that has been abandoned in a field for 10 years. You start with a few defects: the car won’t start, and the lights don’t work. As you work through these defects, they grow exponentially as each problem is found to have multiple causes behind it.

    I’ve heard that this project has been in progress for 4 years, has consumed $400M, and involved 55 contractors. The administration has effectively dug a deep hole, and it will likely take a comparable investment to dig their way out. If Sebelius can show any demonstrable progress by December 1, I’ll eat my hat.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I agree with everything that you have said, but I believe you are mistaken in your final prediction.
      The administration will declare that they have made substantial progress (or some similar euphemism) on or about 11/30, and the media will simply stop reporting all but the most egregious failures (perhaps not even those), and the story will fade away. The fact that it will be an outright lie won’t matter.

      • Matt B

        I agree they will try their best to spin this, but putting lipstick on a pig will only get you so far.

    • Boritz

      Add to that the fact that software fixes are a ‘whack a mole’ proposition with some attempts at fixes creating new problems. A complete accounting has problems that fall into three categories: those that are known, those that will be discovered, and those that will be created while attempting to correct the first two categories.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service