Obamacare Website Stumbles Twice On Deadline Day


Healthcare.gov took two more tumbles on the last day of open enrollment after software bugs caused hours of downtime early Monday morning and then again later in the day. However, performance analysis of the site over time shows that, while improving, the site still wasn't up to par in the days and months before the Monday midnight deadline.

The health-care site has been plagued with problems since it launched Oct. 1, but had seemed to be making improvements since, allowing for more than 6 million citizens to apply through its portals. While there was a surge in traffic due to last-minute enrollees, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said that the downtime was not related to volume issues, even though the site was reportedly exceeding its capacity of 100,000 visitors an hour, according to HHS.

The site was scheduled for regular maintenance from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, but software bugs kept it down for several additional hours. It reportedly was back on track and functioning by 9 a.m., officials said.

[Related: Obamacare Site Disaster: 10 Steps Solution Providers Would Take To Fix It]

Later on in the day, a spokesperson for the Obama administration said that the site was no longer able to create accounts and access all of the enrollment tools due to volume issues, though the Data Services Hub was still working. The second issue was resolved around 1:30 p.m. EST.

The problems with Healthcare.gove are not a surprise for Compuware APM, which has been performing regular analysis of the site since its launch. The most recent Compuware report, released a week ago and updated over the last 24 hours, showed that the site still isn't up to par with similar benchmarks for health-care insurance applications, said David Jones, field technical evangelist director for Compuware APM, who ran the company's analysis of Healthcare.gov.

"The Healthcare.gov site has had lots of improvements over where it has been, but they're still struggling with some of the complexity on the site," Jones said. "It's clearly not at the top of the industry, but we definitely have seen some improvement."

Excessive use of third parties and hosts as well as high numbers of objects are some of the barriers that the study found impacting site performance, all of which are optional. For example, the Healthcare.gov site had 44 hosts on its home page alone, compared to Compuware's health-care insurance benchmark index of 11 hosts. Similarly, Healthcare.gov's homepage had 54 connections, compared to a benchmark of 25. There are 84 objects on the site's home page, compared to a benchmark of 60 for the industry, the study found.

Jones pointed to a common problem with sophisticated enterprise-level applications, such as Healthcare.gov, where complex moving parts are individually substantially load-tested, but end-user load-testing was not necessarily done before deployment.

"In that regards, what it's telling us is that something in the way Healthcare.gov is delivering information is very different than what the industry average is doing," Jones said. "That just speaks to I almost think they tried to do too much and they made the site slightly more complex that it needs to be."

Jones said there was little difference in performance over the last 24 hours, though the monitoring did pick up on the early morning downtime as well as the second round of downtime in the early afternoon.

Even after the rough rollout back in October, Jones said that he has seen examples of applications with major launch failures that were able to remediate and push back into production within hours or days with the right tools in place.

Going forward, Jones recommended that Healthcare.gov would benefit from both end-user monitoring, such as the Compuware APM analysis, as well as taking on a deep dive diagnostic tool to figure out problems on the back end. 

PUBLISHED MARCH 31, 2014