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'Tech Surge' Ordered To Fix Stumbling Obamacare Site
After a slew of software struggles on Obamacare websites, the White House finally addressed the complications at a press conference Monday, avoiding specifics and saying only that the administration is working on fixing the problems with a so-called "tech surge."
Since its Oct. 1 launch date, the Affordable Care Act enrollment system's flagship site healthcare.gov has been plagued with problems and struggled to maintain up-time. Although first blamed exclusively on unexpected high traffic, posting 20 million hits to date on the main site, many of the problems were later attributed to underlying software problems.
"I think it's fair to say that nobody is more frustrated with it than I am. ... There's no excuse for the problems and these problems are getting fixed," President Barack Obama said in his press conference speech Monday morning.
[Related: Software Problems Cripple Federal Healthcare System Rollout ]
The Department of Health and Human Services, the department in charge of the site, announced over the weekend a "tech surge" to identify problems, solve them and implement further testing going forward.
"We are doing everything we can possibly do to get the websites working better, faster, sooner. We got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems. Experts from some of America's top private-sector tech companies, who, by the way, have seen things like this happen before, they want it to work. They're reaching out. They're offering to send help. We've had some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team. And we're well into a tech surge to fix the problem. And we are confident that we will get all the problems fixed," Obama said in his speech.
Companies such as AppDynamics have already offered its programs to the site to help diagnose problems and get it up and running more smoothly, though the company hasn't said if the government has accepted its offer or not. "It's encouraging to see the President address these issues head-on, bringing in the effort and attention needed to fix these quickly. There is no doubt that the launch of an online consumer-facing property of this magnitude is complicated and challenging, and tuning and fixing the underlying software code will take a good amount of effort. AppDynamics works with 1,000s of the world's most visited websites and we remain committed to help the government with whatever assistance we can provide to fix these problems," said AppDynamics founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal in an email.
The government has asked the main contractor of the site, CGI Group, to increase staff hours and put its best people on the job, according to a Bloomberg report. CGI was reportedly paid more than $93 million to assemble the software for the site.
"CGI teams, along with CMS and its other contractors, are working around the clock toward the improvement of healthcare.gov, a system that is complex, ambitious and unprecedented. We remain confident in our ability to deliver continuous improvement in system performance and a more positive user experience," said Linda Odorisio, vice president of U.S. communications for CGI, in an emailed statement to CRN.
The website's problems are not the contractor's first struggle. As the Washington Examiner reported, the Ontario government fired the group after missing three years of deadlines on a medical registry program.
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Kevin Counihan, CEO of CT Health Insurance Exchange, one of the state-run exchanges, said that Connecticut has very little, if any, down-time on its site. The key to maintaining Connecticut's healthy site came about through a tough decision made in January to cut back on 30 percent of the site's functionality, focusing on full functionality of fewer tasks over a wider reach with more problems, he said.
"In retrospect I think it was the smartest decision we made," Counihan said.
Counihan said that the real issue is just the sheer amount of problems that need to be fixed, adding that he had heard one estimate that more than 500 lines of code needed to be sorted through for glitches. Even the Connecticut site, he said, had 67 problems before its launch. However, the state began testing in June, which meant those defects were discovered around August.
"If you don't have a change to test you don't have a chance to understand where the defects are," Counihan said.
Approximately 4,000 people have been enrolled in Connecticut, according to Counihan, with 9,000 more applications pending. He said that the state exchange is aiming for 100,000 enrolled applicants by March.
The best thing for the federal exchange site, Counihan said, would be to shut down the operation for a month to iron out the problems, though he said he also recognized that was probably impossible at this point. In a couple months, however, the problems will not look so bad, he said, likening it to the release of Medicare Part D in 2006.
"In a period of months, this whole thing will be forgotten," Counihan said. "We live in an age of instant gratification; ... they expect everything to work perfectly right away. But, things in life don't work like that."
In the meantime, Obama advised those looking to sign up for the healthcare program to utilize the call centers, register in person or mail in the forms. He said that the administration is adding additional staff to the call centers to help sign up more people.
’While call center staffing is a step in the right direction, people visit a website to research and get information on their own online, and they need self-service options to get a single right answer directly on the healthcare marketplace site in order to help decide what coverage works for them," said David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse, in an email statement.
At this time there is no hard deadline for the contractors to fix the site, other than working to fix it "right away," the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press conference following the speech.
PUBLISHED OCT. 21, 2013