HealthCare.gov’s shaky start… (and why I care so much about it!)
… It’s been about 10 days since healthcare.gov launched, and I still can’t create an account or log on. Or even browse prices of health care plans. As I’ve said before to many people in various different forums, I *really* want health insurance and health care reform to work in this country – for MANY reasons – but the chronic failures of their web site is really, really, bad & isn’t helping the cause at all.
To take a step back – part of the original motivation here is that as a small business co-owner, I’m very interested in trying to get better health coverage – hopefully, for less money – for myself, my partner, and/or (hopefully) also our staff. That’s a very difficult thing to do when you’re a small business, such as one with less than 50 employees. Medical insurance companies have historically always charged horribly exorbitant rates to individuals and small businesses, and we have seen that firsthand at RiteTech, where we’ve had to pay astronomical amounts of money for medical insurance compared to what we used to pay as individual employees in the past, working for other firms (or people).
Now granted, many (actually, most) IT projects – particularly ones of any significant size or complexity – end up being “challenged” – which is a kind euphemism for meaning that they undergo serious problems, whether it’s related to the technology, the budget, a lack of sponsorship (either financial or political), inadequate and/or incompetent staffing, or otherwise . This sad, accurate, but sobering statistic is reinforced over and over again in Project Management Institute (PMI) training and commiserating. It’s a “movie” that I also saw played over and over again back when I used to work as a project manager in prior governmental or quasi-covernmental settings, such as for Loudoun Water or Fannie Mae.
That said, It would be one thing if this was an earthshattering new technology or otherwise experimental new ground in terms of the underlying concept – build a web site to allow consumers to browse/research/compare, and/or possibly purchase, certain goods or services online. But there are way more complicated pricing models out there on large sites, handling much more transaction volume, every day – airlines, stock exchanges, hotel bookings, etc.. The healthcare exchanges can only adjust pricing based on age, smoking/nonsmoking, sex, state of residence, and the specific different “plan” being offered. That’s a lot less complicated of a set of variables than, say, airlines, stock trading, hotels, etc. – and yet all of those sites can handle major loads with no issues…
The fact that the site is pretty much dysfunctionally unusable 11+ days after launch, in my humble opinion, shows a major FAIL on the part of the design and/or project management, IMHO. I heard a statistic that 9 of 10 people trying to use the site are unable to – and I believe it – given that I’ve been completely unable to use it since its launch, and I’ve tried pretty much every other evening since 10/1 just to create a logon.
Other pundits have pointed out the huge cost for the site’s creation (allegedly $634 Million), given that it still doesn’t work, and seems awkwardly designed:
While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the information in that article, from my own basic initial browsing of the site – at least, the sections I can get to- these two critical questions come to mind:
#1 Flaw: Why on earth are creating logon accounts REQUIRED in order to just *browse* plans or gain comparative information? That in and of itself is probably a huge source of additional stress on the system. Most people who browse, aren’t going to buy. That’s just Sales/Marketing 101.
#2 Flaw: Why aren’t the people in charge of this system or web site getting some urgent, emergency, expert help to handle the load from others who have experience in designing, maintaining, and supporting such large-scale systems? Some immediate relief could be as simple as perhaps having a 3rd party site (who can actually handle the load – like maybe Akamai or Amazon) offload the signup or “create accounts” process or pages, then have those parties send over that info. to the back-end systems in some sort of secured batch process, and then send the people signing up an email in a few hours saying “okay, we’re ready for you to log on now.” Yes, what I propose is certainly a very *lame* workaround and I’m sure highly embarrassing to those who’d have to eat crow to ask for this, but isn’t that better than having chronic error pages for days on end, and putting the whole potential program at risk?
I’ll keep people updated in our ongoing efforts to try to get some information from HealthCare.gov.
Thanks for reading!