An Update on the Obamacare Website Debacle

by JRO on November 15, 2013

  • SumoMe

It would be an understatement to say that the launch of was controversial. In a cruel turn of fate, the government began a 16-day shutdown the day the website launched on October 1, 2013. Conservative lawmakers, who chose the occasion to demonstrate their distaste for Obamacare, stoked the ongoing drama surrounding the shutdown. The technical problems plaguing the site only added fuel to the fire.

After a collective sigh of relief that the US didn’t collapse into bankruptcy, reports started to surface about problems that pre-dated the launch. CNN reported that in a trial run just days before October 1st, a few hundred test users “flatlined” the site. For a website designed to handle tens of thousands of users simultaneously, this was a bad sign.

When questioned after the fact, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said delay was simply “not an option.” There were also reports suggesting that the site may have been subject to what is called a “denial-of-service” or DDOS attack, in which a website is overloaded with external communication requests. All told, according to documents provided by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, only six Americans were able to successfully enroll in the exchanges on October 2nd.

Many proponents of the law like to point out that big change is often not without growing pain. The Boston Herald reminded its readers that the rollout of RomneyCare in Massachusetts, upon which many provisions of Obamacare are based, did not go smoothly. Considering that is meant for the entire US population and not just one state, it seems fair to have expected a few bugs.

So What’s New?

To use a sports analogy, the first quarter was a disaster. Yes, we all agree, nobody can dispute that the rollout was problematic. But, like my high school coach used to say, “no team has ever won a game in the first quarter.” Unfortunately, most news about continues to be negative.

HHS has released their official numbers for October enrollments and the grand total is about 106,000 total enrollees (26,000 in the federal exchange and about 80,000 in the state-based exchanges). According to some internal White House memos, the projected enrollment for the first month was expected to be near 500,000. It’s also important to note that HHS makes no distinction between people who have actually paid for their health care plan and people who have simply placed a plan in their shopping cart to purchase later. The ACA has encountered further hostility because many citizens are getting letters from their insurers saying that their preexisting plans are being canceled or will soon be illegal. This flies in the face of President Obama’s pledge that people won’t have to change their insurance plans.

November 30th

HHS officials have cited November 30 as the date by which all problems with the site will be solved. But in a meeting on Friday, November 8, there was a significant amount of hedging as one official was quoted as saying “…don’t think of it as an unveiling…the goal is to make significant improvements.” According to Forbes, and based on data coming from the administration, the website will take four to six months before it functions properly. In the meantime, the Obama administration has to make some tough choices about pushing the deadline on open enrollment before people are penalized. Considering what’s at stake, the administration would do well to get this one right.


Doug Pritchard is a freelance writer specializing in Health Law, Health Insurance, Personal Injury, Commercial Law, Business Law, Brain Injuries and other fascinating areas.

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