Will Obamacare's Tech Surge Miss Its Nov. 30 Deadline?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 13 2013 10:13 AM

Will Obamacare's Tech Surge Miss Its Nov. 30 Deadline?

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post this morning brings us news of more trouble—or, I suppose, more of the same trouble—for healthcare.gov. Late last month, the man tasked with fixing the tech nightmare that is Obamacare's website set down the administration's first concrete marker on when the site would be up and running smoothly: The end of this month, an assurance that has since been echoed by President Obama. Turns out, the paper reports, that's beginning to look less and less likely:

Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.
The insurance exchange is balking when more than 20,000 to 30,000 people attempt to use it at the same time — about half its intended capacity, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal information. And CGI Federal, the main contractor that built the site, has succeeded in repairing only about six of every 10 of the defects it has addressed so far.
Government workers and tech­nical contractors racing to repair the Web site have concluded, the official said, that the only way for large numbers of Americans to enroll in the health-care plans soon is by using other means so that the online system isn’t overburdened.

Many of the alternatives—like federal call centers and insurance companies selling directly to customers—are also suffering from many of the same tech problems as the troubled website, though, so it would appear as though the administration has its work cut of for itself.

Of course, it's important to remember that the Post's lone source is "an official with knowledge of the project," so it remains unclear exactly how accurate a picture we're being painted (a government contractor might see things differently from an HHS official, and likewise have his or her own motivation for casting doubt on the effort to fix things). Regardless, it's pretty obvious that things with the site aren't where they need to be today, with a little more than two weeks to go until the Nov. 30 target. "The challenges we are addressing today," CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille told the Post, "are a snapshot of November 12th, not November 30th."

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 


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