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Administration Admits Obamacare Website Stinks 516

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the jay-sherman-presents dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The WSJ reports that six days into the launch of insurance marketplaces created by the new health-care law, the federal government finally acknowledged that design and software problems have kept customers from applying online for coverage. The website is troubled by coding problems and flaws in the architecture of the system, according to insurance-industry advisers, technical experts and people close to the development of the marketplace. Information technology experts who examined the healthcare.gov website at the request of The Wall Street Journal say the site appeared to be built on a sloppy software foundation and five outside technology experts interviewed by Reuters say they believe flaws in system architecture, not traffic alone, contribute to the problems. One possible cause of the problems is that hitting 'apply' on HealthCare.gov causes 92 separate files, plug-ins and other mammoth swarms of data to stream between the user's computer and the servers powering the government website, says Matthew Hancock, an independent expert in website design. He was able to track the files being requested through a feature in the Firefox browser. Of the 92 he found, 56 were JavaScript files... 'They set up the website in such a way that too many requests to the server arrived at the same time,' says Hancock adding that because so much traffic was going back and forth between the users' computers and the server hosting the government website, it was as if the system was attacking itself. The delays come three months after the Government Accountability Office said a smooth and timely rollout could not be guaranteed because the online system was not fully completed or tested. 'If there's not a general trend of improvement in the next 72 hours of use in this is system then it would indicate the problems they're dealing with are more deep seated and not an easy fix,' says Jay Dunlap, senior vice president of health care technology company EXL."
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Administration Admits Obamacare Website Stinks

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  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:08AM (#45067787)
    So, you're saying that the web site is a proper government software project? ;-p
    • by martin-boundary (547041) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @06:19AM (#45068069)
      They shoulda used Mongo.

      Mongo is webscale.

      • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @06:47AM (#45068143) Homepage

        Mongo loves candy...

      • by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @06:54AM (#45068175) Homepage

        Mongo just pawn in game of life.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by blackis (119500)
        Why mod this flamebait? It's obviously a reference to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2F-DItXtZs [youtube.com]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mwvdlee (775178)

        How does Mongo help prevent stupid amounts of javascript files to transfer?

        Anything more than just a couple of javascript files is inexcusable for the kind of requirements a site like this has.
        There are plenty of ready-made solutions to merge javascripts files for live sites.

        I have no doubt there are other problems though, and the persistant storage may well be one of them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, it's because the developers are idiots that used jQuery in the first place.

          jQuery has a place, and that is in creating things like word processors and painting programs in javascript. It does not belong in a form that I just have to put some data in and hit submit. (The other place jQuery doesn't belong is games, but that's a browser performance issue.)

          Like why in the bloody hell do developers do this?
          example.com/jquery1.8.2.js?v=1.8.2
          This torpedos caching, and when you start throwing plugins onto jquer

          • by xaxa (988988)

            No, it's because the developers are idiots that used jQuery in the first place.

            jQuery has a place, and that is in creating things like word processors and painting programs in javascript. It does not belong in a form that I just have to put some data in and hit submit.

            I'm not building anything as serious as that health insurance site, and there's good reasons not to optimise before it's necessary. But anyway, I've used Zepto instead of jQuery: http://zeptojs.com/ [zeptojs.com] which is 9kB, gzipped.

        • I don't understand why the Obamacare website is still working
          I thought the government was shutdown ?
          • by linuxguy (98493)

            > I thought the government was shutdown ?

            You thought wrong. Parts of the govt. that are not funded by congress have been shutdown. Obamacare and many other govt. functions have been funded by congress.

    • Government only rises to greatness when faced with an external threat, e.g. war.
      Keep in mind that the Apollo Program was a cover story for ICBM development during the Cold War.
      • I never knew NASA was a military organisation... oh, wait, it isn't.
        • But how many military/spy satellites did NASA launch into orbit. Then let's re-evaluated the definition of a military organization. NASA is clearly at least a hybrid entity. And I 3 NASA

        • The funding, the end usage of the technology. . .
          • The tech may be used by the military, but that doesn't make NASA military. Would MS be considered military if the DoD used Windows CE in their fighter jets? (They wouldn't obviously, it's just an example)
            • Their original funding, designers, and pilots were absolutely military. Even more recently, military satellites make up a large portion of their launches and any craft capable of bringing a launch to LEO must be considered capable of military payloads.

      • by dylan_- (1661)

        Government only rises to greatness when faced with an external threat, e.g. war.

        Wars not make one great.

    • Re:Gov't project (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DragonTHC (208439) <Dragon@gamerslas ... minus physicist> on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @07:07AM (#45068231) Homepage Journal

      Not really.

      They're built by lowest bidders Serco and QSS Inc. Neither an American company.

      If they had decided to hire Americans to do this job, they would have had a very large pool of qualified and skilled workers from which to choose.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        More likely just as incompetent but more expensive.
        • Re:Gov't project (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Ronin Developer (67677) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @09:15AM (#45069035)

          I am certainly NOT a proponent of out-sourcing (I will not debate my reasons here). However, let's put the blame squarely where it belongs - on the accepted process of hiring the lowest bidder with no vested interest in getting it right vs one where getting it right would have great impact on the users.

          If this work was being done by Americans who actually need to rely on the ACA for their health care coverage, you can bet your ass that it would have been done right - the first time. And, those who are involved can say it was an American success story. Instead, we now have another reason for it's opponents to call the whole program a failure.

          Brilliant.

          • by linuxguy (98493)

            > If this work was being done by Americans who actually need to rely on the ACA for their health care coverage, you can bet your ass that it would have been done right - the first time.

            We'd all like to believe that. Many states that setup their own local exchanges paid the big bucks to Oracle. They had similar problems too.

  • by philip.paradis (2580427) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:16AM (#45067823)

    So the story here is that a large team of software developers with no demonstrated experience in developing, testing, performing quality assurance for, and administering large scale enterprise application deployments get a federal contract and botches it horribly. Color me shocked.

    I've been working in development and architecture roles for fifteen years, and have seen exactly the same pattern on a variety of scales over and over again. I've seen a number of rather large infrastructure development projects that worked out very well too, but none of those were public sector projects.

    Just remember that the folks responsible for this mess are certainly still taking paychecks while an enormous number of government workers are suffering due to the inability of our Congress to do its job. Good times, huh?

  • Computer ? Website ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:20AM (#45067841)

    Silly question, but... what happens when you want to apply and you don't have a computer ? Surely, by definition, a sizable portion of the population that requires Obamacare doesn't necessarily have the means to have a computer or an internet connection.

    And no, "anybody has a computer these days" is not an answer. I know plenty of people who don't have enough to feed themselves, let alone buy a computer - let alone one that's recent enough to cope with plugins that invariably tell you "your operating system / browser is not supported anymore, please upgrade." every 6 months.

    • by isorox (205688) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:22AM (#45067847) Homepage Journal

      Silly question, but... what happens when you want to apply and you don't have a computer ? Surely, by definition, a sizable portion of the population that requires Obamacare doesn't necessarily have the means to have a computer or an internet connection.

      And no, "anybody has a computer these days" is not an answer. I know plenty of people who don't have enough to feed themselves, let alone buy a computer - let alone one that's recent enough to cope with plugins that invariably tell you "your operating system / browser is not supported anymore, please upgrade." every 6 months.

      Do you have libraries in america?

      • Silly question, but... what happens when you want to apply and you don't have a computer ? Surely, by definition, a sizable portion of the population that requires Obamacare doesn't necessarily have the means to have a computer or an internet connection.

        And no, "anybody has a computer these days" is not an answer. I know plenty of people who don't have enough to feed themselves, let alone buy a computer - let alone one that's recent enough to cope with plugins that invariably tell you "your operating system / browser is not supported anymore, please upgrade." every 6 months.

        Do you have libraries in america?

        You would advise people to input personal details into public access workstations?

        Bad IT professional. No. Off to bed with no supper.

        • by dwpro (520418)

          That is a valid concern, but I don't see a reasonable alternative...what did you have in mind?

    • by linuxguy (98493) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:39AM (#45067915) Homepage

      > Silly question, but... what happens when you want to apply and you don't have a computer ?

      Obamacare by phone: 800-318-2596

    • Any computer from the last 10 years would run a web browser well enough. We actually pay people to get rid of our old IT equipment. You really can get an old computer if you want one. Even if you don't want one, you're bound to have a friend, or even a friend of a friend, who has a computer, and probably would be willing to help out for you signing up to Obamacare if you asked nicely.

      In some countries, internet access is already a basic human right.

    • Silly question, but... what happens when you want to apply and you don't have a computer ? Surely, by definition, a sizable portion of the population that requires Obamacare doesn't necessarily have the means to have a computer or an internet connection.

      And no, "anybody has a computer these days" is not an answer. I know plenty of people who don't have enough to feed themselves, let alone buy a computer - let alone one that's recent enough to cope with plugins that invariably tell you "your operating system / browser is not supported anymore, please upgrade." every 6 months.

      If they can't afford a computer then they're most likely already on title 19 medical and don't need Obamacare.

      • by killfixx (148785) *

        Actually, I know many families that can't make enough to afford a computer but make too much to get free health insurance... or even reduced price lunches for their kids...

        Not everyone on slashdot makes a great living... Some of us are just getting by...

  • by eclectro (227083) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:20AM (#45067843)

    Why can't they just drop a contract in Oracle's lap to handle the website from start to finish? There has to be more than one CRM platform [wikipedia.org] out there.

  • by isorox (205688) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:23AM (#45067855) Homepage Journal

    I'm confused, I thought that nobody wanted obamacare?

    • Nobody wants to pay for Obamacare, but once the state's already gotten your money, you might as well get what value you can out of it.

      Besides, who says many people want it? This article's about the fragility of the site, and how to doesn't cope even without load.

  • by linuxguy (98493) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:28AM (#45067877) Homepage

    Healthcare.gov problems are real. But asking for opinions from people who have a dog in the fight is probably less than ideal. When you ask the likes of Wall Street Journal (Rupert Murdoch's conservative rag) or healthcare technology company EXL (sour that they did not get the contract), you'll get answers that are entirely predictable.

    Why is the website a clusterF? Several reasons come to mind.

    1. It is a 1.0 product.
    2. It is a government project, what do you expect?
    3. The states who setup smaller (in comparison) exchanges had similar problems. My state of OR paid Oracle about $50,000,000 for a much simpler setup where you cannot buy anything, but can only view plans on offer. And even that did not work for first few days.
    4. The developers were stupid and did not anticipate the traffic they got. Even engineering oriented companies like Google often make that mistake. If you have ever tried registering for Google I/O you would know what I am talking about.
    5. Obama's coding skills are simply not up to snuff.

    Team Red would like you to think that the govt. has all of a sudden become very inefficient under Obama's presidency. And under their guy Bush, it was a model of transparency and efficiency.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Inside the liberal bubble (where I don't live, but I have relatives who do), there's another reason starting to be cited:
      6) The State of New York is reporting that they had about 4-5 times as many unique visitors as they had uninsured people, and that many of those visits come in waves of 100,000 or so all at once. The suspicion is that opponents of Obamacare have organized DDOS attacks on the exchanges.

      No idea if the premise is accurate, but it's certainly something that would be both technically possible

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DNS-and-BIND (461968)

        Isn't it odd how, until 2009, it was considered every citizen's sacred duty to disobey the law and trash the government? If the government did something good, it was every citizen's duty to set it on fire, just on general principles. Then suddenly it changed overnight, and anyone opposing the government was a scary weirdo. People are sternly advised to follow the law in all circumstances, and lawbreakers are our worst enemies.

        I used to think the "we have always been at war with Eastasia, we have always be

        • by L. J. Beauregard (111334) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @09:35AM (#45069219)

          "Sacred duty to disobey the law and trash the government"? On what planet? Here on Earth, anyone who criticized george w. bush and his harebrained Iraqi adventure was an America-hating terrorist-sympathizing commie Dhimmicrat socialist traitor.

        • by organgtool (966989) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @11:41AM (#45070839)
          What country did you live in before 2009? As one of the people who opposed the Bush administration, we were told by that administration that if we did not agree with them, we were no better than the terrorists ("If you're not with us, you're against us!"). This scared all of the reporters who had tough questions about the Iraq War to keep their mouths shut or only ask softball questions. I was told by supporters of the administration that "This is America! If you don't like it, then leave!". And your 1984 reference about changing stories in mid-stream could best be applied to the number of rationales for going to Iraq - by the end of the war, I had lost count. Look, I'm not going to defend Obama because I have not been impressed with him by any means, but don't act like being against the government is suddenly unfashionable. It is always going to be fashionable to be against the government among your peers when your party is not in power and it is always going to be unfashionable to be against the government among your peers when your party is not in power.
    • Team Red would like you to think that the govt. has all of a sudden become very inefficient under Obama's presidency. And under their guy Bush, it was a model of transparency and efficiency.

      I don't care about Team Red or Team Blue, but saying "Obama is better than Bush" is like saying "Obama is better than a retarded monkey." While true, it doesn't inspire confidence.

    • 4. The developers were stupid and did not anticipate the traffic they got.

      I'm not directly affected by this, but I'm pissed off anyway. - I don't see how this ISN'T software for a medical device. - By that qualifier this is a failure of the managers who hired newbie web designers for a job that required experienced engineers.

      Considering the volume of patients with medical needs that should be processed, can we not already ascribe actual real, deaths to their failure? - Manslaughter, I believe is the legal term.

      I hope they read this. People who fail to realize the full scope of th

  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @05:30AM (#45067883)

    Vermont's site is a disaster. Based on Oracle you'll encounter pages that were set up using what looks like boilerplate language then never corrected. For example, I was prompted to create this one time password – poorly explained – and presented with this screen that tells the user to enter a mobile phone number then shows a field for an email address – there is no field for a phone number. Then, there is a line of text - "I agree to [ENTER COMPANY OR SERVICE NAME HERE] – that is obviously boilerplate that was never replaced or corrected." The pols and the press keep announcing it is a "processing bottleneck" - now blamed on "old computers"... Can you say "we're gonna waste even more money on this thing?"

  • by mynamestolen (2566945) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @06:34AM (#45068109)
    I'm a bit surprised that we seem to accept the "Obamacare" nomenclature. Can we at least try to be objective? http://www.prosebeforehos.com/video-of-the-day/10/06/obamacare-versus-affordable-care-act/ [prosebeforehos.com] http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/09/27/poll-more-oppose-obamacare-than-affordable-care-act/ [msnbc.com]
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Can we at least try to be objective?

      This is about a piece in the WSJ, a.k.a. the higher-class Murdoch outlet, so no.

    • Even Obama likes the name Obamacare, so it's not really worth worrying about.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @06:45AM (#45068131) Homepage

    For a low grade website.

    And to fix it they will pay the same low grade contractor more money.

    And people wonder why our Government cant do anything right.

  • Suddenly.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PortHaven (242123)

    Republican's request to delay by one year looks like it would of been a prudent decision.

  • by Salgak1 (20136) <salgak AT speakeasy DOT net> on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @07:27AM (#45068341) Homepage

    Consider Healthcare.gov as an Engineering project. Under .gov procurement rules. . .

    The law: an ~1800-page CONOPS document.

    The 10K+ pages of accompanying regulations ? User requirements.

    So. . .CONOPS passes approval, User reqs start getting gathered. Someone writes an RFP and puts it out for bid. Given typical Fed procurement requirements, that's 9 months to a year before contract award. PPACA passed in March 2010, so we're probably at March 2011 now.

    Winner ramps up, develops a Performance Spec and Initial Design, and starts procurement of infrastructure required. Another 6 months. Sept, 2011 now.

    Infrastructure stand-up and development begins. Likely another 3 months. It's 2012 now. Standard development and monitoring/audits. Pilot of basic site for Insurance Exchange, though reviews and changes. 6 months min, 9 months likely, Sept 2012.

    In the next year, you need to finalize, get the integration between multiple .gov sites and agencies hashed out and tuned, and THEN go to useability, security, and scaling tests. In ANY .gov program, that's 2 years, minimum.

    Which means, the first REALISTIC date for Exchange eligibility would have been October 2014. But the lawyers and politicians didn't bother asking the ENGINEERS how long it would take, they never do.

    And **THAT**, is my best estimate of what went on and what is going wrong. . .

    • by Atzanteol (99067)

      Yeah, everyone is ready to jump on the "they were incompetent" bandwagon but this feels like it was doomed by the project schedule. And the shops good enough to realize it probably wouldn't even bid so you get those who are either going to just "do their best and take your money" or "don't know any better."

      Some hiccups for a week or so after launch are probably the best they can hope for.

  • "It's out of control, Captain," said the chief engineer. "The parameters are going to blow if we don't do something soon."

    The Crank continued to sit quietly, surveying the panicked faces in front of him. The tears from a young secretary in the corner, the one who had only joined the group to bring hope to millions of elderly people, confirmed his view that this was no place for the sentimental. Slowly, peoples' eyes started to look his way. What were they hoping for? Some magic fix? Some weird incantati
  • Simplicity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gpmanrpi (548447) on Tuesday October 08, 2013 @08:16AM (#45068553)
    Back when I was still helping with designing and deploying websites, I would always tell clients that they should have a "Simple" backup version of the site. If the problem is load based, there is nothing wrong with having a simple HTML backup system, that generates a way for processing after the transaction is complete. While this might harken back to some of the websites of the late 90s early 2000s, when the CC processor was down, UPS/FedEx/DHL/USPS Shipping Calculation Web Service API or the fulfillment companies XML Order API, it allowed the client to have a sale in hand. It is easier to apologize later and beg forgiveness than to never have the sale. Customer's are amazingly forgiving when you tell them, "We were using our backup system so you weren't inconvenienced, and we have to verify your address, verify your CC info, or the product you ordered is out of stock for several weeks here is an alternative plus something for inconvenience." If they really are pulling from several sources, you trust the user, and when the system returns you run the transactions to verify during normally scheduled low volume times. Also, this is an insurance marketplace, wouldn't your real clients be the insurance companie? Did they not have some say in the testing of the system, or maybe some experience with online ordering systems? Since this is the government, why didn't they do IRS style forms with instruction booklet as a backup. Paper and Pencil backup availability allows them to treat orders like a catalogue order form. I realize all of these backup methods require manpower, but you only have one chance to gain a customer's trust.

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