Obamacare's rough IT day: Is anyone surprised?

The real man-bites-dog story would be if these Affordable Health Act exchanges didn't have glitches on the first day.

Expect little to nothing and you're never disappointed.

And so it was on the first day of state and federal health exchanges as the Affordable Health Act---Obamacare---kicked off Oct. 1. Sites related to health exchanges fell over on day one. Folks couldn't create accounts. Error messages were abundant. Stories about IT troubles were everywhere. In fact, the larger man-bites-dog story would be if these exchanges didn't have glitches.

The key thing to note here is that these high-profile information technology failures didn't spark a lot of outrage. Why? I think few of us really expected these sites and exchanges to work on day one anyway.



Welcome to the art of low expectations and the public's tolerance for IT failures. If the Federal Aviation Administration systems crashed there would be outrage. If the IRS failed on April 15, there would be outrage. Obamacare? Meh.

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Let's get real: From an IT perspective it was clear these exchanges were going to be a disaster.

  • Insurers, the government and states have to sync databases that typically don't communicate with each other well.
  • The project is largely dependent on the Federal government, which has a poor record of delivering IT implementations on time and on budget. You can spend a lifetime reading General Accountability Office reports on IT disasters.
  • The Oct. 1 launch is a beta at best. You may want to consider these networked exchanges to be more alpha if anything.
  • Legacy systems abound.

What's going to be interesting going forward is determining when the general public really cares about IT failures. Obamacare may be an interesting test case, but won't provide anything definitive. The effort is so politically charged that a sizeable chunk of the population will cheer if these exchanges never work.