Health Care Site Has More Than Login Problems

A rush to market without proper testing has created deeper problems in healthcare.gov than appear on the surface

As with the healthcare system itself, the website to enroll in the system has many moving parts from many different sources that are not collaborating smoothly. At least the tech people are working to solve the problem but it may not be fixed in time for the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January. Most of the main problems have been identified by federal contractors. However, the administration has been slow in authorizing fixes to the flaws and the website may be weeks or months from operating smoothly.

The login problems are only the tip of the iceberg of glitches that lay below the surface of the complex programming that will run the site. Five million lines of software code or more may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly. One repair person says, “The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later.”

The federal Web site, healthcare.gov, has been the source of frustration for millions of Americans who have spent countless hours trying to use the site. Those who go without coverage by the end of the enrollment period on March 31 may be subject to fines.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is in charge of the exchange and the 55 contractors, with separately designed databases and pieces of software. People close to the program say the agency is one major problem slowing repairs. The agency does not have the expertise to do the job, these sources say; they do not fully understand what it entails.

Hidden from the users, a part of the system draws data from numerous state and federal databases in calculating eligibility for subsidies. Another part sends the enrollment data to insurers. When software from several sources are combined into a large, complex system major compatibility problems are not uncommon. Insurers are now finding repeated enrollments, incorrect information about some enrollees, wrongly canceled enrollments and complete loss of some enrolment data.

Specialists say the system may require extensive rewriting of the software code. One specialist said the site runs on about 500 million lines of software code, which is about five times more than a large bank’s computer system — for comparison.

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