Software, design flaws Cripple Health-Care Website


Six days after the launch of the insurance markets created by the new health care law, the federal government for the first time admitted on Sunday that it needed to fix design and software issues that have kept customers from claiming online coverage.

The Obama administration said last week that an unexpected surge in web traffic was the root of most of the problems and was a sign of high demand from those seeking coverage under the new law.

But federal officials said on Sunday that the online marketplace needs design changes, as well as more server capacity to improve the efficiency of the federally-run exchange that serves 36 states.

The government said on Sunday for the first time it needed to fix design and software issues that have hampered the online healthcare exchange.

Associated press

“We can do better and we are working tirelessly to do it,” said Joanne Peters, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services. The government is making software and hardware changes to ease the process of creating the accounts needed to access the market, federal officials said.

The federal government has recognized for the first time that it needs to fix design and software issues that have prevented customers from applying for health care coverage online. Christopher Weaver reports on the numbers. Photo: Getty Images.

The website is plagued by coding issues and loopholes in the system architecture, according to insurance industry advisers, technical experts and people familiar with market development.

Among the technical problems that annoys consumers, according to some of these people, is the system for confirming the identity of registrants. Problems in the system cause crashes when users attempt to create accounts, the first step before they can apply for coverage.

Experian PLC, an information services company, has a federal subcontract to support this system. The company declined to comment.

Information technology experts who reviewed the website at the request of the Wall Street Journal said the site appeared to be built on a sloppy software foundation. A hastily built website may not have been able to withstand the demand online last week, they said.

Engineers at web hosting company Media Temple Inc. found an overabundance of wandering software code that they could not identify. They also said that basic web efficiency techniques are not being used, such as saving parts of the website that change infrequently so that they can load faster. These factors are clogging the website’s plumbing, Media Temple said.

Identity check faults also trigger problems for state-run exchanges, which rely on the federal system. The issue caused delays last week for users of MNsure, the Minnesota stock exchange, as they waited for federal confirmation to create their accounts, said April Todd-Malmlov, executive director of MNsure. She said the problem in her condition was largely resolved on Friday.

Administration officials, who reported nearly nine million unique visitors to the federally-run exchange on Friday evening, said the system underwent maintenance over the weekend.

The federal government manages all or part of the online marketplace for 36 states, while 14 states and the District of Columbia have their own systems. These state-run systems have experienced mixed performance. States such as Connecticut and Kentucky have been successful in signing up customers, while Maryland has had to shut down its market periodically last week to fix issues.

About 30 million uninsured people live in the states that the federal market will serve, including Texas and Florida.

So far, web traffic issues have only allowed a small number of buyers, said John Gorman, managing director of Gorman Health Group, an insurance consulting firm whose clients sell policies on the market. scholarships.

Large insurers have seen enrollment numbers totaling hundreds each, said Sumit Nijhawan, managing director of Infogix Inc., a data integrity firm that works with insurers such as WellPoint Inc., Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp.

So far, several tens of thousands of people have started the application process, but the number of those who have been able to create accounts and purchase coverage is likely a few thousand, according to people with knowledge of the situation and estimates from the insurance industry. advisers.

The administration declined to say the total number of registrants.

President Barack Obama has urged patience since the launch of the exchange. At the start of last week, when the website opened, he said online traffic was higher than expected. “It gives you an idea of ​​how important this is to millions of Americans across the country,” he said.

Stephen Push, a 52-year-old retiree living in McLean, Va., Said he tried to log into the website a dozen times last week and was thwarted by website errors at every time. He called a hotline set up by the administration to help people sign up on Friday, but the customer service rep was also unable to access the online marketplace.

On Sunday, Mr Push said, he was able to complete an application to start buying insurance over the phone. But he said he was told he would have to wait two more days to log in and start purchasing coverage, a delay the customer service representative attributed to the identity verification system.

“After what I’ve been through I’m a little suspicious,” Push said, adding that he hoped to see lower premiums than he is currently paying.

Separately, a system that determines whether people are eligible for federal grants to purchase insurance, or Medicaid, a state-run program for low-income people, has continued to make inaccurate determinations, despite improvements, has continued to make inaccurate determinations, despite improvements. declared people familiar with the matter. At the end of last week, officials feared they might have to let some applicants know they weren’t eligible for the programs they signed up for, one person said.

This system was developed by the CGI Group Inc.,

the project manager developing the federal exchange. CGI declined to comment.

Another issue last week was the security questions asked of applicants, similar to those asked by e-commerce websites. asks users to select questions such as “What is your radio station?” Then provide answers. Initially, questions did not always appear in the drop-down tools, leaving many early customers stuck in the last week.

After the issue was largely resolved, people said they were able to fill in the required information but the site still couldn’t process their request.

The website and signup issues “don’t really matter that much in October, but for the actual sign-up campaign, it all needs to be sorted out by November or else they won’t be able to handle the volume they need. ‘they’re going to get it,’ said Jon Kingsdale, a stock market expert who helped set up a similar market in Massachusetts in 2005 and now works as a consultant for several state-run exchanges.

Write to Christopher Weaver at [email protected], Shira Ovide at [email protected] and Louise Radnofsky at [email protected]

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