Obama calls IT support for ailing site

'Best and brightest' to be brought in to fix Healthcare.gov
By Mike Miliard
11:06 AM
Obama calls IT support for ailing site

Three weeks after the disastrous launch of its health insurance marketplace, the Obama administration has vowed to redouble its efforts to fix its many glitches, promising a 'tech surge' to iron out its problems and improve the customer experience.

In an Oct. 20 blog post on website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, administration officials conceded that dealing with Healthcare.gov "has been frustrating for many Americans" as they deal with failed log-ins, confusing error messages and slow-loading pages.

"The initial consumer experience of Healthcare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people," the post read. "We are committed to doing better."

Toward that end, HHS has called upon additional IT experts – people it calls the "best and brightest from both inside and outside government" – to "scrub in with the team" and help "solve some of the more complex technical issues" plaguing the site.

[See also: What happened to Healthcare.gov?]

No specific people or companies were mentioned in the blog post. But Bloomberg News reports that the Tiger Team will include U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, former CTO of HHS, and co-founded of athenahealth and Castlight Health.

Park's former partner, athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush, called him "incredibly energetic, incredibly precise and incredibly dedicated," according to Bloomberg. "If anybody can snatch this from the jaws of the bureaucracy, he can."

There will be a new emphasis on consumer engagement on the website, with tools put in place to help individuals alert officials to spots on the site where they're running into errors or other difficulties, according to HHS. "We are also defining new test processes to prevent new issues from cropping up as we improve the overall service and deploying fixes to the site during off-peak hours on a regular basis."

 

 

Many in Washington are still unconvinced. This calling in of the cavalry "makes a good sound bite," but is "woefully short on detail," Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for Repulican Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, told Bloomberg. "Who are they bringing in? When can Americans expect real results?"

 

While accepting blame for Healthcare.gov's many faults, the administration did tout what it said were some of the site's successes. For one, its data hub component, which provides information to help confirm eligibility for specific insurance policies, "is working,"  according to HHS. "Individuals have been able to verify their eligibility for credits, enabling them to shop for and enroll in low or even no-cost health plans."

[See also: HIX deadline ‘less than 600 days’]

Additionally, the blog post emphasized improvements in the past few weeks, such as the addition of more server capacity "to meet demand and execute software fixes to address the sign up and log in issues, stabilizing those parts of the service and allowing us to remove the 'virtual waiting room.'"

Still, any impartial observer would recognize that that's far from enough. And it seems certain that there's lots more work to be done. As the New York Times reported yesterday, there are "weeks of work" left to go on the site. One IT expert it consulted said "as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten" before Healtcare.gov is running smoothly.

"We're proud of these quick improvements, but we know there's still more work to be done," according to the HHS post, which encouraged customers to offer feedback at Healthcare.gov/connect

[See also: What happened to Healthcare.gov?]