Healthcare.gov: Better, but not good enough

Healthcare.gov: Better, but not good enough

Summary: The White House said that Healthcare.gov would be working by November 30th. It is much better, but there's still a ways to go.

SHARE:
31

The deadline is here. The White House had promised that the Web centerpiece of its new universal healthcare plan, Healthcare.gov, would be working properly by November 30th. It's not.

HealthCare-Glitch
Healthcare.gov is much better, but it still has major problems. I've been stuck with this error message for hours.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Healthcare.gov is working much better. I surveyed my colleagues and many of them were able to make it through the Website, which had crashed and burned when it was first rolled out. Counting myself, eight out of ten people were able to make it through without trouble. I'm one of those who's still having problems with it

All of us found that the site was much faster than its previous snail-like pace that had greeted us when the site opened on October 1st. We also found that the site simply works better than in its previous incarnations. In our experiences pages no longer simply locked up never to move again.

That's all well and good but at the end of the day, we still found Healthcare.gov to be far too glitchy. We weren't the only ones. CNN reporters also ran into problems as well.

Some users, who had previously started applications found themselves still stalling out. One way around this, which was used by ZDNet's own Ed Bott, was to simply start a new application using another e-mail address.

In my case, I navigated my way through the system right up to the point where I could start looking for an insurance package. It was only then that the system told me I hadn't given it all the information it needed.

When I followed the site's instructions I found that I had never answered a question about whether my wife or I had ever used tobacco products. The reason I hadn't answered this query was that I had never been asked it.

After I answered it, the site still refuses to let me move further along. When I tried to take the next step it continued to refuse to see that I had now answered the tobacco question. Hours later, I'm still spinning my wheels with these pages.

Healthcare.gov is also telling me that "You have a notice available about your Marketplace eligibility." But, it's not giving me a way to read that notice. I'm guessing it's about the tobacco question, but I really have no idea.

I also found the site to be confusing, and I make my living in part by quickly understanding complex systems. I can see many people being utterly befuddled by the site.

Even if it did work perfectly, it has other problems: It doesn't appear to be robust enough to handle the load it's being asked to handle.

According to the Wall Street Journal, on November 2nd only 26,794 people have enrolled via Healthcare.gov. On December 1st, Jeffrey Zients, the man President Obama tasked to oversee the fixes reported that "the average system response time is under 1 second." On a Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend it did respond at that speed.

Zients also said "the error rate is "consistently well below 1 percent"; the online system is stable — not crashing — more than 90 percent of the time; as many as 50,000 shoppers can use the site at the same time, or up to 800,000 visits a day." A closer look reveals there's still a lot of work to be done.

According to the HealthCare.gov Progress and Performance Report (PDF Link), the "Per page system time outs or failures have been driven down from over 6 percent to well under 1 percent." To be exact, the failure rate, as of November 29th, was down to 0.75 percent per page. Think about that for a second, you have to go through dozens of pages for your application, and there's a 0.75 percent chance per page that something will go wrong. That's not good.

The site itself is now up, as of November 30th, 95.2 percent of the time. That would be unacceptable in any business Web site.

True, 800,000 sounds like a lot, but 48 million uninsured Americans must enroll by March 31st or face tax penalties. I find it hard to see a system that still crashing regularly on a daily basis being able to handle the load.

The government report ends with, "While we strive to innovate and improve our outreach and systems for reaching consumers, we believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."

I don't think so.

Yes, the site is much better, but is it good enough? No, it's not. Healthcare.gov needs much more work before it reaches an acceptable level of performance.

Related Stories:

Topics: Cloud, Government US, Health

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

31 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • You need to click on Set to continue

    It's not obvious but if you click on Set and wait a bit, you will get insurance choices...
    TechieJohn2
  • You can now reset your application

    Rather than using another email address, you can now reset your stalled application and start over. That worked for me...
    TechieJohn2
  • Hmmm

    Doing a little math on your statement "True, 800,000 sounds like a lot, but 48 million uninsured Americans must enroll by March 31st or face tax penalties."

    So if 800,000 have signed up and the site has been "up" since October 1, that means it's been up 63 days. That's an average of 12,699 per day.

    That means there are 119 days left before the tax penalties are enforced. That means they have to serve 403,362 people each day.

    This means they need to improve the site so that it can handle an average of 32 times the traffic that it has received so far. Sorry, but I don't think that's going to happen. Especially when you consider the procrastination that many who will be signing up for the site.
    benched42
    • Even worse

      Using my own experience in handling Open Enrollment at work (one of my co-workers runs the entire IT side of OE while I just support it), about half of the people who must enroll will wait until the last 3 days to do so, and this number is very consistent even when we send daily emails to people who aren't yet enrolled. I don't even have to do the math to tell you how much of a strain that will be on the system, even if this only holds true in a very small sense. Basically the gov't has said "we will tax you if you don't enroll, and by the way we aren't going to give you a way to enroll either" (well, reliably at least. The IRS won't care whose fault it is, only that they get that tax money from you).
      AnomalyTea
      • Thanks,

        I misread the numbers. But I still think it will not work - the uptime for the server is too low and people have a tendency to procrastinate (meaning they will receive 3-4 times the amount of traffic in the last week or so).
        benched42
    • Your numbers are wrong...

      He said it can handle 800K a day, not that that is how many signed up. about 27K have had success. Based on his statement, 48000K need to sign up. 48000/800=60 days.

      Based on your statement, that there is 119 days left, it is achievable, however, even if you add in the error rate.

      Not sure that the problem is solved either way, and if we factor in the current downtime rate, your 119 days * 95.2% MUP = 113.288 days.

      The math works, as long as everyone gets in line, and doesn't overtax the system, and nothing else goes awry.

      If we combine this story with the Amazon story/current events, your new policy will be delivered by drones!

      ;)
      QAonCall
      • Stand in line and don't overtax the system

        Did I just wake up in Soviet Russia?
        baggins_z
  • Will these idiots learn, ever? Never.

    If there's anything to know about the government, it's these two things:

    1. Nothing by the government EVER works. EVER.

    2. If something by the government DOESN'T work (which is 100% of the time according to rule #1), it cannot be fixed. Throw it out and start over again.

    By this logic you can hardly go wrong.

    Canada, anyone? Or how about the UK? I hear they're lovely this time of the year. Cold, yes, but still lovely.
    donnie126_2002@...
    • based on your logic...

      Step #2 would cause an infinite loop.
      dh1760
      • And it does. Would you like to know

        how many different food and housing assistance programs there currently are in the U.S. Federal government? It's dozens. All overlapping with one another. Because of step 2 above.
        baggins_z
        • But like most sweeping generalizations...

          ...it's wrong on the face. If government never did anything that worked, it would simply be irrelevant and we'd have many fewer people like yourself complaining about "tyranny".

          There is no such thing as an ineffective tyrant.
          John L. Ries
          • Come to think of it...

            ...a government that was completely ineffective wouldn't be irrelevant; it would be replaced.
            John L. Ries
    • Please...

      How many troubled, big, and *private* IT projects and software implementations has ZDNet itself covered the past year? From Adobe's hackers delights to even Apple having many bugs in its initial release of Mavericks, having bugs in big computer/software projects is the norm these days, at least during the break-period. You neo-libertarian flakes should just shut up about things you don't understand, which probably includes just about everything.
      JustCallMeBC
      • Not a single one with failures of this magnitude.

        Zero. Zip. Nada. I get it. I really do. You are desperate for this to work because you think it means you think you'll get free health care. That's going to be your next big shock, BTW.
        baggins_z
        • Wrong, oh pinnish of head

          There's this thing you probably seldom hear about in the circles you likely travel -- research. And there is something related to it that you are likely just unfamiliar with -- history. And both research and history indicate strongly that you are both pinnish and poopyish of head -- from a study last year:
          http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/delivering_large-scale_it_projects_on_time_on_budget_and_on_value
          JustCallMeBC
          • quoting mckinsey?

            to back up your argument you link to Mckinsey, a by word for over budget and under delivery. lol
            the.nameless.drifter
  • Security? What security?

    If this site works absolutely perfectly, user-friendly to the nth degree, and was even something I actually wanted to do, rather than being forced to do so, I would not, and will not, approach it until someone with a generous amount of believeability backed up with some pretty heavy credentials tells me it has failsafe security. It seems surreal that an aware blogger such as yourself would put his personal data in such jeopardy, as well as evidently discussing this with friends and/or acquaintances without warning them that the simplest security has not been a consideration in 'fixing' this boondoggle of an internet site.
    iouzero
  • Article: "I'm one of those who's still having problems with it"

    Am curious as to which OS and web browser SJVN is using to access healthcare.gov ...

    If it's like many web sites on the Internet, client OS and web browser market share guide deployment. Thus, I would expect that healthcare.gov would start their deployment with support for Windows, especially Windows 7 and XP, along with the currently-supported versions of Internet Explorer. Next would be OS X with Safari. After that, 3rd party web browsers including Chrome and Firefox running on Windows and OS X. I'd expect support for GNU/Linux, including Chrome OS, and BSD with the Firefox, Chrome and Chromium web browsers to be one of the last things tested. But I would, eventually, expect healthcare.gov support for all of the aforementioned OSs and web browsers.

    As an example, here's a link to Intuit's TurboTax Online system requirements:

    https://turbotax.intuit.com/personal-taxes/online/system-requirements_thickbox.jsp

    The closest thing to GNU/Linux and BSD is the Chromebook.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Link to system requirements:

      https://www.healthcare.gov/browser-compatibility/

      o Windows XP through 8, check
      o Internet Explorer 8 through 10, check
      o OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, check
      o Safari 5.1 and 6 on OS X, check
      o Firefox and Chrome on Windows and Firefox, check


      Of note:

      o Windows Vista is not mentioned
      o Internet Explorer 6, 7 are not mentioned
      o Internet Explorer 11 is not mentioned
      o OS X Mavericks is not mentioned
      o GNU/Linux is not mentioned
      o Safari 7 is not mentioned
      o BSD is not mentioned
      o Opera web browser is not mentioned

      Both the Firefox and Chrome version nos. seem to be inconsistent across Windows and OS X indicating that this particular web page is not particularly well maintained. Ditto for no mention of IE 11 and Safari 7. Given the problems with the healthcare.com web site, one would think that the system requirements would be important for user to know.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Correction: "Firefox and Chrome on Windows and OS X, check"

        .
        Rabid Howler Monkey