Software Problems Cripple Federal Healthcare System Rollout

In what was originally credited to be the effect of unexpectedly high traffic, website downtime on Obamacare sites is now being credited to a software and design problem, reports said.

The Department of Health and Human Services originally credited widespread downtimes to high Web traffic, reporting 4.7 million hits on the flagship site. However, federal officials over the weekend admitted that design, software and server capacity problems have stopped people from applying all together, the Wall Street Journal reported.

User comments said they had trouble accessing dropdown menus and broken links and experienced general website availability issues, among other complaints. Reports on how many people were able to make it fully through the process range from the single digits to the low thousands.

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In his Oct. 1 speech regarding the government shutdown, President Barack Obama referred to the website outages, saying that the outages represented how popular the program was and that the government was working to handle the excess demand.

"Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it. I don't remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn't," Obama said in his speech.

CGI, one of the major contractors for the Obamacare system, did not reply to CRN's request for comment on the issues with the system. CGI reportedly has a $93 million-plus contract with the federal government to help develop the software.

However, not every state is having big problems. Kevin Counihan, CEO of Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, said his company, a quasi-public agency running the Connecticut Obamacare operations, has seen minimal downtime and a relatively effective system. He said Connecticut only saw 1.5 hours of website downtime on the first day of the program.

Counihan said he is working to leverage the benefits of outsourcing to help create the most efficient process.

"We looked at every operations area that we did and we said where can we outsource. ... We have outsourced all of our third-party operations -- why should we be doing something that someone else can do better, faster, cheaper?" Counihan said.

NEXT: The Key To Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange's Uptime Success

Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange's Counihan said the key to maintaining the uptime was three pronged, focusing on the customer experience and system stability and following a business process outsourcing (BPO) strategy. He said that his company had to make some tough decisions back in January to limit functionality, saying it was better to focus on doing a few things well than more things inconsistently.

Connecticut has taken steps to be more sustainable and self-sufficient and limit interaction with the federal hubs. For example, it cut enrollment time in half by verifying with the federal Hub during the enrollment process, instead of a batch verification of multiple users at the end. By verifying one at a time, Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange was able to prevent a group failure and limit its users' dependency on the Hub.

As of Saturday evening, there were 1,157 applicants to the system plus their dependents, Counihan said.

Counihan said that due to the enormity of the software project, it will take some time to iron out all the glitches in the system. He said it reminded him of the Medicare Part B implementation in 2006, which took a full three years to stabilize, and he expected it would take around the same time frame for Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, to settle in.

"We're going to look back at this in three years and it's going to be a blip on the screen," Counihan said. "I'm not saying were out of the woods. This is too complex; it would be presumptuous to say that."