Published October 28, 2013
Like an aging car shuttled from mechanic to mechanic, President Obama’s Healthcare.gov is becoming a costly stream of failing parts and crumbling infrastructure -- so how long until the site is up and running?
“Everyday another mechanic goes in and looks at the car and screams, it’s the brakes, it’s the oil, it’s the engine,” said Rob Bernshteyn, CEO of Coupa, a company that helps healthcare organizations like Avalon and Molina deploy and manage websites and services. “Contractors say the government is at fault, and vice versa. The fact is that most likely everyone involved in this project deserves some of the blame.”
Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients said Friday that the site could be fixed in a matter of weeks. "By the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users," he told reporters. And that is possible, Bernshteyn said.
“It could be 'running smoothly' but full of duplicates and errors,” he told FoxNews.com. “It could be 'running smoothly' but folks enroll in the wrong plans. It could be 'running smoothly' but folks have given up by then because they don't trust it.”
Some experts have gone so far as to suggest starting from scratch with a completely new site.
"We don't even know where all of the problems lie, so how can we solve them?" Nish Bhalla, CEO of information-security firm Security Compass, told CNN. "It's like a drive-by shooting: You're going fast and you might hit it, you might miss it. But you can't fix what you can't identify."
The latest contractor to run into trouble is Verizon, which said Monday morning it had finally fixed issues with a back-end database that caused the latest glitch.
“Verizon Terremark successfully resolved the issue with the networking component overnight and as of 7am ET this morning the Data Services Hub was fully operational,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters told Fox News.
But there’s no need to head back to the drawing board, Bernshteyn told FoxNews.com. The problem is a simple lack of clarity and specific measures of success. Clearer leadership could fix Obamacare.
Bernshteyn’s company Coupa has managed similar though smaller projects that have tens of thousands of users and handle millions of transactions. He suggested two tactics to fix Healthcare.gov: eliminating extra features and scaling back the range of the site.
“What happens in these big deployments, you have the government agency or company working with vendors with their own ideas of success. You have a lot of different competing priorities. And you get feature creep: Everyone’s trying to get different features into the site. You haven’t though through data loads or integration,” he told FoxNews.com.
Healthcare.gov could enact a calendaring approach, he suggested, dropping the buggy registration module and spend November in “information mode” to get data about plans out into people’s hands. The site could then spend December enrolling people.
Another option: slow the deployment. Much as massive social network Facebook rolled out slowly, first school by school before opening up to older users, Healthcare.gov could scale back and deploy on a state by state basis, making it easier to see bugs and anticipate other ones.
“What we’re doing isn’t rocket science. This can be managed,” Bernshteyn said.