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Gina Furia Rubel

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In the Wake of the HealthCare.gov Website Launch

Posted: 10/25/2013 7:06 pm

It is 2013. There are millions of websites on the Internet. There are thousands of websites that handle high-volume traffic. So why is the Insurance Marketplace website, HealthCare.gov, such a hot mess?

My two cents:

  • The top White House officials contracting for the website very likely have no idea how websites actually work, how they need to work to meet demand and the importance of a reasonable testing timeline.
  • The federal government contracted with CGI Federal and others, none of which have experience building large-scale web-based services (according to Techdirt). Why not engage the folks who built Amazon, Zappos, Facebook or any one of the many high-volume web platforms?
  • No single company was assigned to oversee beta testing. As a result, the tail is wagging the dog and the finger pointing that began when the troubles started continues.
  • Top government officials are playing in a division well above their league. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough reportedly told the New York Times, "We knew this was a complex undertaking but did not see the huge volume of demand coming." Seriously Mr. McDonough? You are talking about a government website used to register millions of people due to the Affordable Care Act under Obamacare. His statement, in and of itself, blows my mind! And while Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's health secretary, continues to dodge questions regarding her knowledge of the website's problems, there is no doubt in my mind that she was well aware that the site was not ready for wide-scale public use - but somewhere along the line, had to concede to the powers that be who were pushing for an Oct. 1 launch date.

Even the developers of the Harry Potter portal, Pottermore.com, knew to roll out the website slowly to its millions of recreational followers. Twitter did the same thing when it upgraded its platform.

A New York Times article, "In White House Pitches, Rosy View of Health Care Site", describes the internal rollout as being done with "fast-paced PowerPoint briefings show[ing] images of a shiny new Web site that was elegantly designed, simple to use and ready for what officials hoped would eventually be a flood of consumers on Oct. 1."

Instead of antiquated PowerPoint presentations, how about a detailed strategic development, testing and website launch plan from the private companies hired to design, build and manage the multi-million dollar website (estimated to have cost anywhere from $93 million to $634 million)? I wonder if substantial time was included in the plan to address issues that could arise during beta testing.

When I researched the cost of HealthCare.gov, I came across The Washington Post article, "Why it's almost impossible to find out how much HealthCare.gov actually cost." I hope the builders got their money's worth because when all is said and done, they should all be put out of business.

According to the New York Times, Clay Johnson, a founder of Blue State Digital which developed President Obama's 2008 campaign website, declined an opportunity to work on HealthCare.gov. Mr. Johnson, you are one smart man!

 

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