October 10, 2013

Obamacare glitches to be expected, analysts say

Could the culprit be clunky technology?

By Craig Timberg
The Washington Post

And Lena H. Sun

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the www.healthcare.gov website in this photo illustration. The federal government’s portal logged over 2.8 million visitors by the afternoon of Oct. 2, a day after Obamacare was launched.


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You’ll have to get coverage by Valentine’s Day or thereabouts to avoid penalties for being uninsured, the Obama administration confirmed Wednesday.

That’s about six weeks earlier than a March 31 deadline often cited previously.

The explanation: Health insurance coverage typically starts on the first day of a given month, and it takes up to 15 days to process applications.

You still have to be covered by March 31 to avoid the new penalties for remaining uninsured. But to successfully accomplish that you have to send in your application by the middle of February. Coverage would then start on Mar. 1.

The Jackson Hewitt tax preparation company first pointed out the wrinkle with the health care law’s least popular requirement.

An administration official confirmed it. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and insisted on anonymity.

It’s the latest bit of confusion involving complex requirements of President Obama’s health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act.

Adjustments to the law have ranged from the momentous to the mundane. The biggest one was a one-year delay of a requirement that larger employers offer coverage, announced this summer. More recently, the administration has postponed some Spanish-language capabilities of its enrollment website, as well as full functionality on the site small businesses use to sign up.

Starting next year, the law requires virtually all Americans to have insurance or face a tax penalty.

– The Associated Press

“The episode is all too typical of how government creates IT services,” said Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs. “The procurement process tends to select firms that are good at navigating the procurement process, not providing good IT services for the dollar.”

The Obama administration has declined to say how many people had successfully signed up for insurance, even as many states offered updates. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw development of the site, declined to comment Wednesday.


“It’s not at all uncommon for something this complicated to have problems,” said Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Industry Council, a Washington-based group that represents government contractors. He said it’s important to know the scope of what the contractors were asked to do before rushing to judgment. “You can tell me to build a house for four kids, but then if you have 27 it’s not the company’s fault.”

This argument generates some sympathy from outside analysts. The website needs to interact with many other systems, including those of private insurers, each with its own computer system, rates and offerings.

Even in the eyes of critics, federal procurement officials were innovative in hiring a small Washington-based tech firm, Development Seed, to build what developers call the “front end” of the website..

But the “back end” — the guts of the system – was built by a traditional contractor, CGI Federal. CGI has declined to comment on the problems with the site.

Development Seed President Eric Gundersen is optimistic. “This is going to get fixed. This is a lot of scale. They got, in 24 hours, more people trying to register than Twitter got users in 24 months. Let’s not all hate on the government here.”

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