Reddit sleuths Healthcare.gov woes

'Externalized strings be buggin, yo.'
By Anthony Brino
10:22 AM
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What exactly is plaguing the federal insurance marketplace website, healthcare.gov, even as most state exchanges are functioning well, remains unknown. But Web developers and software engineers across the country have a few ideas. In the best tradition of the Internet, they've been crowdsourcing their various diagnoses on Reddit, the popular social media site.

On Tuesday, October 1, a user who goes by the name “tweedpatch” started a conversation with this photo on a nonfunctioning healthcare.gov:

A user who goes by the name “beefzilla” replied saying, “externalized strings be buggin yo,” referring to tools used for bundling parts of websites or making them compatible with multiple platforms.

A user called “PCLOAD_LETTER” chimed in:

“It has other problems as well. I created an account at around 12:30 last night got the confirm email, verified, tried to login, -invalid password. tried again, Same thing. Ok fine I'll reset password -account name verifies and it sends the reset email, click the link, get message about how that account name doesn't exist. Whatever. I've waited years for this. Another week or two wont hurt. They'll get the bugs worked out eventually.”

[See also: Exchange deadline creeps closer]

And with anonymity being a key feature of the internet, a number of self-described insiders who say they’re working on exchange IT were drawn to the conversation. A user called “tpatch” wrote: “As someone who was burning the candle at both ends last week to finish a health insurance website, I can sympathize.”

Which elicited this critique from a user called “thejman78”: “Ya, that would explain the fact that the JS and CSS aren't combined and minified, that they're not loading from a CDN, etc. That's always the last thing you do.”

Another complaint lead to speculation that some design flaws were part of the reason more server space was needed.

“Spektr44” wrote: “View source. They're loading 11 CSS files and 62 (wat?) JavaScript files on each page, uncompressed and without expires headers. They have blocks of HTML inexplicably wrapped in script tags.”

Said another commenter in reply: “That sort of unnecessary overhead is going to kill their servers in HTTP requests that could have been minified and packed into two files (1 CSS and 1 JS).”

Others on Reddit have been defending many of the approaches taken by HHS and the federal contractors managing the site.

A user called bmorearty wrote that “the team did a lot of things right, not the least of which was open-sourcing the project on GitHub (even if it wasn't until after the release). That's how you get good feedback from the development community. I mentioned that choosing to deploy it as static HTML was also a good decision in terms of the ability to handle load. And sure, they did some things wrong (such as not combining CSS and JS), but those things are easily fixable and I feel that overall they are to be commended for the things they did right. One more thing they did well, although it has nothing to do with scalability: I think it's great that they created it to work well on mobile devices from day 1, using responsive design. Lots of people will be accessing the site from their phones. It's nice that the team creating healthcare.gov took care to make the site work well for those people.”

HHS, CMS and federal contractors, meanwhile, are trying to address problems they find through testing and that are reported from users, all while asking for patience from would-be shoppers and encouraging them to visit assistance centers or to call and speak with navigators.

From Twitter:

Rob Newton ‏@rnewton862h

@HealthCareGov finally got account created. login goes to blank page.  When are updates going to fix that? #wanttogetcovered

HealthCare.gov ‏@HealthCareGov41m

@rnewton86 We are working to address that issue ASAP. Thanks for your patience.

Andrew Hunt ‏@ahuntre4h

@HealthCareGov Hi. Is there something wrong w/ Tennessee access? I've tried and tried. Get past 3 step set-up, told to try again.

HealthCare.gov ‏@HealthCareGov4h

@ahuntre Thanks for reaching out. We're aware of this issue & have engineers working to address it. Thanks for your patience.

Shannon Kish ‏@shannonkish7 Oct

Day 7 of my attempt to sign up for ObamaCare via the @HealthCareGov website. Day 7 of continued errors & no assistance from chat or twitter

HealthCare.gov ‏@HealthCareGov7 Oct

@shannonkish Thanks for your patience. Call us at 1-800-318-2596, we can give you personalized help.