Visualizing the Obamacare Snafu

IT experts say the online marketplace failed due to flawed website architecture. Here’s a chart that puts that in perspective.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
Oct. 7, 2013, 7:53 a.m.

This is what an on­line health care ex­change looks like:

Func­tions

The fed­er­al health-ex­change mar­ket­place, ar­chi­tec­tur­ally, is a mess. That, at least, is the con­sensus of IT ex­perts ex­plain­ing to re­port­ers why so few people were able to sign up on­line for health in­sur­ance last week.

  • In the Wall Street Journ­al: “Such a hast­ily con­struc­ted web­site may not have been able to with­stand the on­line de­mand last week.”

  • On Re­u­ters: “Five out­side tech­no­logy ex­perts in­ter­viewed by Re­u­ters, however, say they be­lieve flaws in sys­tem ar­chi­tec­ture, not traffic alone, con­trib­uted to the prob­lems.”

  • On Wonkblog: “Most of the prob­lems like these are in the soft­ware. Hard­ware is the easy part. You can add more hard­ware and do it eas­ily. Soft­ware takes more time.”

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted to The Wall Street Journ­al that the web­site has cod­ing is­sues, and that they “can do bet­ter and we are work­ing around the clock to do so.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Mar­got Sanger-Katz pre­dicted this out­come. In Ju­ly, she wrote about the lo­gist­ic­al dif­fi­culties of open­ing the ex­changes, es­pe­cially in cre­at­ing an in­form­a­tion hub that ties dis­par­ate streams of data from vari­ous gov­ern­ment agen­cies. The chart at the top of the page tries to sim­pli­fy what that looks like.

“In an ideal world,” she re­por­ted, “the ex­change web­sites need to be able to talk to sev­er­al fed­er­al agen­cies — IRS to veri­fy an ap­plic­ant’s in­come and em­ploy­ment status, the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity to de­term­ine her cit­izen­ship, and the state gov­ern­ment to see if she qual­i­fies for Medi­caid, to name a few — all in real time.”

She con­tin­ued: “It is in­creas­ingly clear that the kind of Amazon.com, one-stop shop­ping that was once de­scribed … will not be avail­able in most parts of the coun­try.”

Well, Amazon it is not. But time might fix the on­line mar­ket­place. Speak­ing to The Switch, an IT ex­pert in­volved with its im­ple­ment­a­tion said the first rocky week may not be in­dic­at­ive of lar­ger Obama­care in­fra­struc­ture prob­lems. But if it is, prob­lems could con­tin­ue to trickle down, for in­stance, when people get the bills for their new in­sur­ance plans.

While the design com­plex­it­ies don’t ab­solve the ad­min­is­tra­tion from blame, they do put the ex­change prob­lem in some per­spect­ive. If and when health­care.gov is up and run­ning smoothly, it will be con­sidered an ac­com­plish­ment of in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy in gov­ern­ment, which tends to lag far be­hind the private sec­tor.

What We're Following See More »
STAKES ARE HIGH
Debate Could Sway One-Third of Voters
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."

Source:
YOU DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS ANYMORE
Gennifer Flowers May Not Appear After All
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."

Source:
HAS BEEN OFF OF NEWSCASTS FOR A WEEK
For First Debate, Holt Called on NBC Experts for Prep
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

NBC's Lester Holt hasn't hosted the "Nightly News" since Tuesday, as he's prepped for moderating the first presidential debate tonight—and the first of his career. He's called on a host of NBC talent to help him, namely NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack; NBC News president Deborah Turness; the news division's senior vice president of editorial, Janelle Rodriguez; "Nightly News" producer Sam Singal, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, senior political editor Mark Murray and political editor Carrie Dann. But during the debate itself, the only person in Holt's earpiece will be longtime debate producer Marty Slutsky.

Source:
WHITE HOUSE PROMISES VETO
House Votes to Bar Cash Payments to Iran
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed legislation late Thursday that would prohibit the federal government from making any cash payments to Iran, in protest of President Obama's recently discovered decision to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash in January. And while the White House has said Obama would veto the bill, 16 Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the measure, 254-163."

Source:
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
×