Software Failure, Structural Problems Caused ACA Website Issues

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Federal officials are pointing to the failure of a major software component and structural issues for the technical glitches last week that made enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's federally run insurance exchanges a problem for millions of consumers, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the identification of the software component failure as the primary reason for the enrollment difficulties and delays is the "most detailed explanation" from the Obama administration since the online marketplaces opened on Oct. 1 (Shear/Pear, New York Times, 10/7). Officials initially blamed high traffic to the federal exchange website for the problems, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker/Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/8).

However on Monday, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park explained that the federal portal -- at Healthcare.gov -- allowed consumers to create user accounts before the enrollment process had started, which caused the portal's system to crash and blocked millions of other consumers from viewing their enrollment and coverage options or accessing information detailing their eligibility for federal subsidies.

In addition, some users who already had established accounts could not access them. Others were asked to verify their email addresses to gain access to their accounts, but the verification link did not work as intended, the Times reports.

Park said that exchange officials now have a clear understanding of the issues, adding that "contractors have sent reinforcements" and are "working 24-7" to rectify the issues. He suggested that high traffic also was a likely factor for the problems. Park said, "At lower volumes, [the software] would work fine," but "[a]t higher volumes, it has problems."

According to the Times, the Obama administration declined to identify the private contractors that were hired to build the exchange portal's account creation function, citing agreements to keep such details private (New York Times, 10/7).

HHS Continues To Offer Reassurances on Federal Exchanges' Website

Meanwhile, HHS officials said the department is working to boost the capacity of the website, which serves consumers in about three dozen states that declined to establish their own marketplaces ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/8).

The portal was scheduled to be taken offline for several hours early Tuesday morning for additional maintenance and repairs to the technical problems, according to "Healthwatch." HHS spokesperson Joanne Peters said that maintenance work on the website last week, "in light of the overwhelming demand," was "beginning to show results." As of Monday, the website had received about 8.6 million visits since Oct. 1, HHS said (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/7).

Insurers, Policy Observers: Glitches Are Temporary

Meanwhile, insurers and policy observers who have been involved in the implementation of large-scale federal programs urged patience and expressed confidence that the glitches with the federal exchanges' website are temporary, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, in a statement said, "We anticipate enrollments will continue to increase in the days and weeks ahead," adding, "This is a marathon and not a sprint."

Former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt -- who led the creation of the Medicare prescription drug program during the George W. Bush administration -- said, "There wasn't enough time for testing, so the dress rehearsal became opening night." However, the Obama administration has "an incentive in the next couple of weeks to get this right. The real crunch is going to be coming Nov. 15 through Jan. 1. That's when the system really has to function smoothly," he said (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/8).


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