Federal Exchange Glitches Continue; HHS Vows Fixes

U.S. residents who created accounts through the Affordable Care Act's federal health insurance exchange -- HealthCare.gov -- have been told they need to create new usernames and receive password resets in order to fix login problems and other technological glitches, the Washington Times reports.

According to the Times, technology website Ars Technica reported that customer service representatives on the exchange's phone support system have told recent exchange registrants that the changes are needed because many accounts were never transferred to the website's database, leaving the accounts "'stuck in authentication limbo.'"

However, users who make the changes still are not guaranteed that their information will be saved in the system, according to the Times (Ernst, Washington Times, 10/9).

HHS Says Glitch Fixes Coming

HHS officials have said they identified elements causing a number of glitches and delays in the online exchange and are working to fix them, Modern Healthcare reports.

The officials said they are working to increase server capacity in response to high user volumes and install software upgrades to make the site more capable of supporting a large number of users.

Further, officials said that a major software component of the site was "overstressed" and prevented consumers from accessing the site and creating accounts. To fix the problem, the component was moved to dedicated hardware from "virtual machine technology" to ease bottlenecks created by the large numbers of users.

In an email, HHS spokesperson Joanne Peters said, "Wait times have been significantly reduced and more people are logging on and applying" for health coverage. She noted the agency "won't stop until the doors to HealthCare.gov are wide open."

According to Modern Healthcare, state-run exchanges have had much smoother launches and have experienced fewer glitches than the federal exchange (McKinney, Modern Healthcare, 10/9).

Observers Wonder Why 'Tech Savvy' Admin Struggling With Exchange Website

Meanwhile, a number of ACA supporters and opponents have wondered why an administration that is known as technically savvy could launch an online exchange with so many flaws, the Washington Post's "The Fix" reports.

According to "The Fix," the Obama administration came to be known for its technological wizardry during President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. However, there are several reasons why that proficiency has not translated to the federal exchange. For example:

Obama's campaign team -- complete with a chief technology officer, a chief innovation officer and a director of analytics -- was able to operate outside of public view and did not face the pressure of strict launch deadlines;

  • The administration was not able to hire the same people who worked on the campaign because of potential political backlash;
  • The "nuts-and-bolts" of the exchange fall under HHS' responsibility, not the administration, which has the authority to advise policy but not the operational or functional responsibility of creating the site; and
  • Creating the exchange was more complex than coordinating voter turnout through public media sources (Eilperin, "The Fix," Washington Post, 10/9).

Critics Say Problems Go Beyond Exchange

In related news, technology analysts have said the exchange's glitches go beyond flawed computer code and stem from the government's tendency to buy outdated, costly and bug-ridden technology, the Washington Post reports.

According to the Post, the U.S. government spends more than $80 billion annually on information technology services, but the systems usually take years to build and experience rocky launches. The Post reports that other government systems often experience problems similar to the glitches in the exchange software.

Analysts say the problem is exacerbated by a shortage of technical staff in government agencies, forcing them to outsource jobs to contractors that succeed in procurement but fail to stay on the "cutting edge" of creating user-friendly websites (Timberg/Sun, Washington Post, 10/9).


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