Have you gotten through to healthcare.gov yet?

Summary:I'm one of the many who had trouble getting through to healthcare.gov to apply. In fact, I couldn't even create an account. It's too soon to tell, but I'm still concerned.

Happy Obamacare Day!

I have health insurance and wouldn't change it casually, but I figured I'd go to healthcare.gov today and see what the new exchange policies would cost me.  It didn't work out so well, and (as  my colleague Rachel King has reported ), I'm not alone.

Several times I went to the site and, as required in order to proceed, I tried to create an account. The initial account creation process worked smoothly (I do have one complaint and some praise, see below) but after I submitted the request it spun wheels for a couple minutes and then this:

healthcare.gov.error.620

Four times I tried.

I live in New Jersey which chose not to create a state exchange, so the Federal government operates one for us, as directed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), better known as Obamacare.

It's hardly a surprise that the site would be especially busy today, so I'm reserving judgment on it (and on the law itself, as I still don't know what it will cost me). But I do think there's some reason for concern.

One person tried to compare it to me with the delays users experience downloading iOS 7 on the first day, but I don't think it's a good analogy. iOS 7 is a download in the hundreds of megabytes, many of which users were accessing through wireless networks. Bandwidth contention is completely predictable.

When I tried to create an account on healthcare.gov, I had no trouble connecting to the front-end web server. Getting to the login form took a while; I was presented with this:

Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait

We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!

That delay took several minutes. It's not an especially sophisticated queuing system. The page contains this:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Refresh" CONTENT="30;URL=">

For those of you who don't write HTML, that means that it reloads the page every 30 seconds.

Once I got through to the login page, filling out the forms to create an account was smooth and quick. It's the back-end processing systems that couldn't handle the load. This too may be reasonable on day 1, but so far it's certainly no reason to be impressed with their transaction processing capabilities.

They're going to pay the price in support for it, but I admire the site designers for having fairly strict username and password rules. Here they are:

The username is case sensitive. Choose a username that is 6-74 characters long and must contain a lowercase or capital letter, a number, or one of these symbols _.@/-


Your password must contain 8-20 characters. There must be at least 1 upper case letter, 1 lower case letter, and 1 number. It must be different from your last 6 passwords. It can't contain your username or any of these characters = ?<> ( ) ‘ " / \ &

These are strict enough that lots of people are going to trip up on them, but it's the right thing to do. Probably because they know there will be problems, the site also requires that you choose 3 of challenge questions and provide answers:

challenge-questions

Personally, I had trouble coming up with a third that I would be sure of. I much prefer when sites allow you to provide both the question and answer, something very personal that only I would know and would never forget.

So, in all fairness, it's too soon to tell if they did a good job on the web site part of this. I do hope things are better tomorrow, or at least before open enrollment is done.

Topics: Government : US, Security

About

Larry Seltzer has long been a recognized expert in technology, with a focus on mobile technology and security in recent years. He was most recently Editorial Director of BYTE, Dark Reading and Network Computing at UBM Tech. Prior to that he spent over a decade consulting and writing on technology subjects, primarily in the area of sec... Full Bio

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