Since its launch in early October, Barack Obama's Healthcare.gov has been plagued with bugs, errors, and issues that have frustrated its first-ever users. The idea was to let Americans easily shop for insurance plans, but the reality has been a bit more complicated.
Nov 26, 2014
Healthcare.gov has come along way since its disastrous rollout last year. The first week of open enrollment for 2015 healthcare plans began on November 15, and Healthcare.gov seems to have handled the rush without breaking. The Obama Administration is reporting that 462,125 people signed up for plans through the site in the first week of open enrollment, and nearly half of them had not purchased plans through the site before. The numbers are a marked improvement over last year's famously buggy launch, which signed up just over 100,000 customers in the first month.Read Article >
Nov 7, 2014
The launch of Healthcare.gov, the US government's health insurance website, was beset with technical problems so severe that only six people were able to enroll on its first day in October 2013. Ahead of a second enrollment period, beginning on November 15th, government officials are launching cyberattacks against the revamped site to make sure the same crippling bugs and security holes don't appear again.Read Article >
Andy Slavitt, hired to oversee the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Healthcare.gov program, says that groups of white-hat hackers in his team are conducting weekly attacks on the network that simulate real hacking attempts, in order to probe for weak points and bolster its defenses. Flaws in the previous incarnation of Healthcare.gov were exposed earlier this year when a security researcher reportedly obtained 70,000 medical records through a Google search.
Sep 18, 2014
We all now know what happened with the federal healthcare marketplace, Healthcare.gov. The three-year development was complicated by changing specifications, and the government's convoluted procurement process meant entrenched companies were getting contracts over and over. But a wave of government accountability reports, concluded after months of investigations, is bringing new attention to the meltdown.Read Article >
The Government Office of Accountability released a report earlier this week detailing the security flaws in the site, but a report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released yesterday is even more damning.
Aug 11, 2014
The White House doesn't want to see a fiasco like last year's Healthcare.gov launch happen again, and it's establishing a crew of tech experts today to, theoretically, make sure it doesn't. Called the US Digital Service (USDS), the new group will be led by Mikey Dickerson, a former Google engineer who is said to have played a key role in repairing Healthcare.gov. USDS' goal is make sure that government agencies have good practices for IT, particularly when it comes to public-facing systems so that they can hopefully avoid major issues in the future.Read Article >
In general, the USDS is tasked with seeing that the government's tech services are as good as what citizens will find from private companies. It's supposed to keep government organizations accountable, establish ways that common services can be scaled across the government, and work on specific cases to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
Jul 1, 2014
Time to check in on the Healthcare.gov quagmire, where health department officials are facing 2.6 million "inconsistencies" — places where information submitted on an application failed to match government records — that were supposed to be resolved months ago.Read Article >
Income and citizenship status are causing the most problems, followed by employer-sponsored minimum coverage, Social Security number, non-employer sponsored minimum coverage, incarceration status, and Native American status. All these factors affect an applicant's eligibility for insurance and subsidies.
Jun 5, 2014Read Article >
That starts with the improving the application. Millions have already used it to request coverage, but the process didn't exactly earn rave reviews. The team is working to craft a revised user interface that's more efficient, according to Wired, and one that will compel more people to sign up when they visit Healthcare.gov. Unfortunately "about 35 to 40 percent of applicants" — people with more complex coverage needs — will be stuck with the same convoluted process as last time. The application is also being optimized to work better on smartphones and other mobile devices. Fixing up the plan comparison tool is another priority.
Apr 25, 2014
Oregon is giving up on its state-run online health exchange and switching over to the federal website, making it the first state to make the jump, according to the Associated Press. Oregon's health exchange, known as Cover Oregon, has reportedly been plagued with issues and hasn't even been able to fully process new applications online — those enrolling have apparently still had to fill out paper forms as well. Fixing Cover Oregon reportedly would have cost a staggering $78 million, while transitioning over to Healthcare.gov will only cost between $4 million and $6 million.Read Article >
Though Healthcare.gov was initially plagued with problems itself, the fact that it's been seen as the better option here goes to show just how far it's come. In giving up its own exchange, however, Oregon will lose some control over its broader policies, which will be set by the federal government. Cover Oregon's board reportedly made the decision to switch at a meeting this afternoon.
Apr 19, 2014
The officials are requesting that Healthcare.gov users reset their passwords after a continuing internal review by the Department of Homeland security flagged the site as possibly being vulnerable to a Heartbleed exploit. The move to reset passwords is being taken "out of an abundance of caution," according to a a notice published on the site, which serves as a portal for the health insurance exchanges set up under Obamacare. In addition, the note says that "there’s no indication" that any information was revealed through Heartbleed.Read Article >
Critics of the Affordable Care Act may seize the opportunity to attack the much-maligned Healthcare.gov website, which was plagued by bugs during its launch last year. Those site issues have since been fixed, and the Obama administration recently announced that 8 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through the exchanges. Healthcare.gov is only one of many US government sites that use OpenSSL, the encryption protocol that lay vulnerable to attacks for the past two years via a bug known as Heartbleed. The Department of Homeland security is still leading a review of government sites, and the Associated Press reports that others, like the White House's petition website, may have mandatory password resets as well. Untold thousands of non-government sites have been affected by the bug, and many high-profile sites have similarly requested that their users change their passwords.
Apr 10, 2014
United States Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned from her position today, some six months after the debacle that was the rollout of health insurance marketplace Healthcare.gov. Sebelius, who held the spot for five years, will likely be replaced by Sylvia Burwell following a formal nomination from President Obama tomorrow morning, reports The New York Times. The paper added that the decision was Sebelius' following conversations with the President about her future.Read Article >
Apr 2, 2014
When the government’s health insurance shopping site Healthcare.gov first launched on October 1st, it was obvious that something was very wrong. The site rejected valid passwords, served up blank drop-down menus, and crashed repeatedly. After millions of visits on the first day, only six people got all the way through.Read Article >
Even more remarkable than the scale of the catastrophe was the speed with which the site was fixed. An Oceans 11-style recruitment effort pulled together a team of about a dozen technologists and managers who packed their bags, flew to Washington, DC, and worked for two months straight, including on Thanksgiving. By early December, Consumer Reports had reversed its opinion of Healthcare.gov from "stay away" to "it’s terrific." Monday, the official deadline to sign up for health insurance, was one of Healthcare.gov’s biggest traffic days. It stumbled, but quickly recovered and signed up 217,176 people in 24 hours.
Today is officially the last day to sign up for health insurance, and the government marketplace has stumbled twice. Following a temporary outage this morning, the site was rejecting new applications outright for about 30 minutes this afternoon.Read Article >
The issue was with new accounts only, meaning those who have already started their applications were unaffected. New account creation has historically been a problem for Healthcare.gov, which experienced severe technical issues for the first two months after it launched.
Today is officially the last day to sign up for health insurance in order to get coverage in 2014 and avoid a fine for being uninsured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A slew of exemptions have effectively extended the deadline indefinitely, however.Read Article >
If you’ve started an application by 11:59PM tonight, you can complete it after the deadline and still receive coverage in 2014. Even if you haven’t started an application by tonight, you’re allowed to apply after the deadline if you experienced website errors, were given misinformation by an ACA worker, were the victim of exceptional circumstances, or fit into one of another seven categories. These claims will not be audited and there is no penalty for lying. "Most people are truthful when applying for those benefits," Julie Bataille, the director of communications for the Health and Human Services department that oversees the insurance marketplace, told reporters last week.
Jan 22, 2014
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the division of the health department that administers the Healthcare.gov insurance exchange, has denied that the website is vulnerable to hackers. The statement came in response to David Kennedy of TrustedSec who claims that consumer information including first names, last names, addresses, and user names is publicly viewable through Google.Read Article >
Kennedy says he never accessed the profiles himself, but he confirmed their existence by using some advanced search parameters to drill down deep into the site. "There are problems with the site that need to be fixed and things that need to be addressed that aren't being fixed," says Kennedy, who first testified about the issue in front of a Congressional committee in November. He declined to disclose his exact methods until the issue is fixed.
Jan 21, 2014
The federal health insurance marketplace at Healthcare.gov still has major security issues according to some experts, including a flaw that allows user records to show up in Google results.Read Article >
At least 70,000 records with personal identifying information including first and last names, addresses, and user names are accessible by using an advanced Google search and then tweaking the resulting URLs, according to David Kennedy, founder of the security firm TrustedSec. Kennedy notes that he never modified any URLs, just that he noticed that it was possible.
Jan 10, 2014
Finally, someone's getting fired over the Healthcare.gov debacle. The Washington Post is reporting that the administration is about to cut ties with CGI Federal, the contractor that built most of the error-riddled website where Americans are supposed to buy health insurance. CGI will be replaced by Accenture as the primary contractor on Healthcare.gov.Read Article >
Critics were disappointed to see the same contractors who had screwed things up on Healthcare.gov also being paid to fix them. The high profile failure highlighted the need for reform of the way the government buys and manages IT projects, but change seemed to be coming slowly. At first it seemed as if no one would be held responsible for the mess, so today's news is encouraging.
Jan 5, 2014
In the wake of the glitch-ridden launch of the US government's online health insurance marketplace, the Obama administration is reportedly considering loosening the requirements for hiring federal tech workers and establishing a special agency to oversee future tech projects, according to The Wall Street Journal. No final plan has been crafted, but several broad new efforts are being considered, including giving government agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the agency responsible for the error-prone Healthcare.gov website — the ability to engage in "direct hiring" of software developers.Read Article >
Currently, federal agencies are required to sift through multiple job candidates for tech hires and give preference to veterans, among other requirements. They also have up to 80 days to make a decision, but the White House wants to speed that process up. The White House is also said to be evaluating the idea of having government tech workers "rotate through private-sector companies." But as the Journal notes, there are other labor issues ingrained in the federal tech workforce that may make it difficult to attract private-sector talent even if any of these proposals go into effect, including more sporadic funding, an older employee base, and the perception that the workplace culture doesn't support innovative tech ideas. But given how poorly Healthcare.gov performed at first, it's understandable why the White House would be looking at options outside the current system.
Jan 1, 2014
Though it began with a rocky start, healthcare signups through the United States' new insurance marketplaces surged this month, bringing total enrollments to 2.1 million for the end of the year. Most notably, enrollment doubled through Healthcare.gov as the deadline for January coverage approached. Given Healthcare.gov's often-inoperable state during the prior months, that statistic isn't necessarily so impressive, but the government is encourage that enrollments will actually continue to grow from now through March, when the enrollment period ends.Read Article >
The improvements on Healthcare.gov appear to have made a dramatic difference though. While it isn't the only way to sign up, the total enrollment for December — for state and federal marketplaces together — was nearly six times greater than the combined number for the prior two months.
Dec 26, 2013
Vermont and Massachusetts are taking steps to get their money back from CGI Federal, the government contractor that built the health insurance marketplaces in those states as well as the federal marketplace Healthcare.gov.Read Article >
State officials say CGI Federal delivered the websites late and with defects, reports the Boston Globe.
Dec 23, 2013
The deadline for Americans to sign up for health insurance is coming up fast. In order to have coverage at the start of 2014, applications must be submitted by 11:59PM Eastern time tonight. Update, 12:57PM: The White House has extended the deadline by one day, reports The New York Times.Read Article >
It's the deadline that will determine how much damage was done by the botched launch of Healthcare.gov, the federal online health insurance marketplace that has suffered extensive technical problems. The last minute rush today will also be a final test for how well the website is operating after two month of tech fixes.
Dec 17, 2013
Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will be the new leader of Healthcare.gov, the troubled website through which Americans can access the new federal insurance marketplace. DelBene recently retired from Microsoft after over two decades of work there, most recently as head of the Office division. He'll start work as a senior advisor to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, on Wednesday, when he'll begin managing the website and working toward improving its stability, interface, and security.Read Article >
Despite DelBene's long tenure at Microsoft, top leadership from the company appear to be excited about his appointment. "Kurt is a talented and capable executive," Bill Gates says in a blog post. "I’m certain he’ll make an important positive contribution in his new role with HHS." Ballmer echoes similar sentiments, saying that DelBene's skills will be "invaluable" to the work on Healthcare.gov.
Dec 11, 2013
Health secretary Kathleen Sebelius made her second appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee today to answer questions about Healthcare.gov and other aspects of the implementation of health care reform.Read Article >
The number of Americans who have enrolled still falls far short of targets, in part because the website was largely unusable at first. Less than 365,000 Americans have enrolled in plans through the federal marketplace and the state exchanges.
Dec 6, 2013
The administration has finally announced the error rate for 834 transmissions, the data sent to insurance companies after applicants fill out their information on the Healthcare.gov marketplace. It's not good: one in ten forms contain errors, a spokesperson told reporters during a press call today.Read Article >
834 is short for "834 Electronic Data Interchange Transmissions" or "834 EDI Transactions," the files that get passed to insurance companies so new enrollees can be added to their systems. This is a critical function of the federal marketplace: if it doesn't correctly communicate with insurers, people won't get the coverage they think they've signed up for.
Almost 2 million people visited the federal health insurance marketplace on Monday and Tuesday, nearly doubling the site's traffic, an administration official told reporters today.Read Article >
"Healthcare.gov remains stable," says Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the health department agency in charge of the site.
The federal health insurance marketplace has been getting heavy traffic since the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the administration, receiving a million visitors on Monday. That's twice as many visitors as the site had been seeing, officials said, resulting in higher error rates and longer wait times.Read Article >
Still, the site did not crash and processed at least 18,000 new enrollments, according to the administration. About 13,000 users ended up in the queuing system designed to avoid overload. Those users will get an email asking them to return to the site at a less busy time.
Dec 3, 2013
Even now that the White House’s self-imposed November 30th deadline has passed, members of the emergency tech team assigned to fix Healthcare.gov remain glued to computers in a Maryland office, working to repair the most important website the government has ever launched.Read Article >
On the walls, 16 large flat-screen monitors detail how the site is performing in real time, showing bottlenecks, traffic to different parts of the site, and common error messages.