Obamacare Website: Will the November Fixes Solve the Problem?

Will the Obamacare website still be a turkey following Thanksgiving?

After perhaps the rockiest start in history for a major government program launch, the Obama administration promised that the HealthCare.gov website would be ready for full duty on Nov. 30. The website serves as the backbone for Americans in 36 states in purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Now that the magic date is at hand, the nation will find out whether the website will live up to expectations. 

Source: HealthCare.gov.

The problems
While many fixate on the performance issues experienced by the Obamacare website, in reality there were quite a few other serious problems. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that there were "a couple of hundred" problems needing to be resolved after HealthCare.gov launched. Those issues generally fall into one of four categories – performance, application processing, website security, and exchange of data with insurers.

Probably the biggest performance problem identified early on in the operation of the Obamacare website was with the account creation component developed by UnitedHealth Group's (NYSE: UNH  ) Quality Software Services. This issue resulted in a bottleneck for users on HealthCare.gov.

Multiple application processing glitches also were quickly found. Some insurance plans that should have appeared on the website didn't show up at all. Users saw erroneous prices for some plans. Critical steps in completing the enrollment process were skipped altogether.

Security for HealthCare.gov emerged as another significant concern after a South Carolina resident learned that his personal information was inadvertently viewed by a person in another state. That problem was quickly fixed, but several security experts testifying before Congress recently warned that the website still isn't secure.

Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) CEO Mark Bertolini's comments captured the magnitude of the issues experienced by the website in exchanging data with insurers. Bertolini told CNBC that "there's so much wrong, you just don't know what's broken until you get a lot more of it fixed." If insurance companies like Aetna can't get correct data from HealthCare.gov, they can't process applications successfully. 

The plan
Facing a barrage of criticism, the White House brought in Jeffrey Zients to salvage the Obamacare websites. Among the key changes made was to appoint UnitedHealth's Quality Software Services as the lead contractor.

Experts from several big-name technology companies, including Google, Oracle, and Red Hat, were also brought in to help resolve some of the problems. President Obama referred to all of this as a "tech surge."

Incremental changes have been made throughout the past several weeks. Rather than take the HealthCare.gov site down while issues were resolved, federal officials opted to leave it in operation and fix it in motion.

Technical teams are also working to resolve the issues related to the enrollment files sent to insurers known as "834" files. These files are named after the identifier given by the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, for the enrollment transaction. Issues with the 834 files are invisible to website users, but any problems could result in sending bad data to insurance companies. 

The prognosis
Judging from what federal officials are saying, HealthCare.gov is performing better than it did. White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday that the website can now support 50,000 simultaneous users. Many of the bugs affecting completion of applications have also been fixed.

Bigger question marks, though, relate to security and those 834 files. While individuals responsible for the security of the website have said that the site meets applicable federal cyber-security standards, outside experts aren't very confident about the security of HealthCare.gov. And so far, the government hasn't released any information about error rates for enrollment data sent to insurers.

Two numbers thrown about by federal officials recently have raised eyebrows. The White House announced that the Obamacare website will work for only 80% of online users. As I've noted before, those odds are worse than what you'd experience playing Russian roulette.

Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also said that up to 40% of the work needed for "back office systems" remains undone. These functions include details like paying insurance companies for the coverage provided to individuals. The back-office issues wouldn't afffect people as they use the HealthCare.gov website but could keep them from ultimately getting insurance if not successfully completed soon.

What will the final prognosis for the Obamacare website be? We'll soon know. The answer will determine how happy the December holidays will be for many technology contractors and insurers -- and especially for federal government officials.

Something about Obamacare that will make you thankful
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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 9:43 AM, 2smartforlibs wrote:

    The regime see no problem this is doing exactly as intended( leading straight to single payer). Begging the question why fix something that's working?

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 10:01 AM, cityperson wrote:

    The American people get no pardon for BO only more lies spins and gun to your head things of Obamacare Tax. For a direct apology from BO forget, he can not speak unless it is written down somewhere.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 10:47 AM, BCL1722 wrote:

    ACA = CLUSTERFUBAR

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 10:47 AM, SLTom992 wrote:

    They are talking about a website. Even a fool like Obama will be able to hire people to fix it.

    That isn't the problem. The problem is having to put all of your personal information in there available to people with no background checks before you get so much as an indication of how much the plan would cost.

    And then if it's simply too expensive for you, they have you by the neck and know who to send the IRS after. That is if there's anything left after some thief has hacked all of your accounts and bankrupted you.

    Your government at work and play.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 11:06 AM, sabebrush6 wrote:

    2013

    INSTALLING OBAMACRE.

    ███████████████░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ 44% DONE.

    Install delayed....please wait.

    Installation failed. Please try again. 404 error: Obamacare not found.

    EVENT "Obamacare" cannot be located. The Obamacare you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    2013

    Is this the healthcare option you've been waiting years for ?

    Remember, if your health care web site works correctly, you've probably logged onto a scammer's web site.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 3:29 PM, jmasonnofool wrote:

    I tried it this morning and it worked just fine. Was signed up within 15 minutes.

    The data is for a male in his early 40's in Texas.

    The bronze plans were slightly more expensive than I expected, starting at about $250/month, though that's still cheaper than my current low-quality plan. What was surprising is that some of the gold and platinum plans were only a little more than the cheaper plans.

    You could get plans for around $300 a month that covered 80% of costs with like a $10 co-pay for doctor visits. Pretty good.

    Even the most expensive plan was only about $400/month and it covered 100% of everything with no deductible. WOW!

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 3:34 PM, bugmenot wrote:

    Clearly, when doctors and hospitals are already opting out of giving health care to Obamacare plans, we know that Obamacare is in big trouble. People will now die because of Obama. He will have to defend his criminal act to the world. And I think the US news media, no matter how liberal, will have to demand Obama's deportation for crimes against the people.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 4:47 PM, knyghtwolf53 wrote:

    Hmmmm, how about NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO and NO. Does this help anyone understand this situation? I think it's very clear and succinct. Any questions? Please if you do not understand the word "NO", I need to know your confusion as to either the "N" or the "O", thanks for your cooperation!!!

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 7:26 PM, JamesM wrote:

    Obamacare is a flagrant violation of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution: "Those powers not specifically delegated to the government by this Constitution are reserved to the states and to the people." Oath-breaking by unethical, immoral politicians like Barack Hussein Obama, who hate America but love the New World Order need immediate impeachment!

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 5:55 AM, Squirrel7y6g wrote:

    Obama supporters will go hysterical over this well sourced list of 462 examples of his lying, lawbreaking, corruption, cronyism, etc. http://danfromsquirrelhill.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/obama-25...

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 8:24 PM, GuyG wrote:

    Finally we can enjoy the higher costs of the affordable healthcare act.!

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