HHS Secretary Sebelius needs an intervention
Time to question the mental health and stability of our Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Kathleen Sebelius penned a beautiful op-ed in USA Today. Unfortunately, her analysis of how well the Healthcare.gov site is working is such a startling break from reality that it is clear she needs some kind of mental health intervention.
I mean, like, attendants in white coats with a straitjacket type of intervention.
When the Health Insurance Marketplace opened last week, demand was so high, it exceeded even optimists' expectations. On the first day alone, HealthCare.gov had nearly eight times more concurrent users than Medicare's site (one of the federal government's most highly trafficked) during open enrollment peak levels.
Um...no. In the immortal words of Defense Secretary Albert Nimzicki in the film Independence Day, "That's not entirely accurate."
Government officials blame the persistent glitches on an overwhelming crush of users - 8.6 million unique visitors by Friday - trying to visit the HealthCare.gov website this week.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw development of the site, declined to make any of its IT experts available for interviews. CGI Group Inc, the Canadian contractor that built HealthCare.gov, is "declining to comment at this time," said spokeswoman Linda Odorisio.
Five outside technology experts interviewed by Reuters, however, say they believe flaws in system architecture, not traffic alone, contributed to the problems.
For instance, when a user tries to create an account on HealthCare.gov, which serves insurance exchanges in 36 states, it prompts the computer to load an unusually large amount of files and software, overwhelming the browser, experts said.
If they are right, then just bringing more servers online, as officials say they are doing, will not fix the site.
"Adding capacity sounds great until you realize that if you didn't design it right that won't help," said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality. "The architecture of the software may limit how much you can add on to it. I suspect they'll have to reconfigure a lot of it."
After giving glowing accounts from a couple of citizens lucky enough to actually make a start on signing up for insurance, her delusional state of mind becomes obvious:
Of course, nobody wants Americans to have to wait to sign up. Engineers are working day and night to make upgrades. We're adding more servers to enable the system to handle larger loads. And we're upgrading our software as well to make the system more efficient and enable it to handle higher volumes.
This work is delivering results. Wait times on HealthCare.gov are now 50% shorter, and more people are enrolling in affordable coverage.
A 50% improvement in wait times? From 2 hours to 1 hour is an "improvement," I suppose, but hardly amounting to "user friendly":
At the same time, we have been upgrading the capacity at our 24/7 call center (800-318-2596). And consumers are finding that their calls are being answered quickly.
To those who are interested in signing up, you have until Dec. 15 to enroll to get coverage the first day it takes effect on Jan. 1. If you are willing to wait a little longer for your benefits, you have until the end of March to sign up.
Yeah. Just like using Travelocity - if the Travelocity website had been designed by chipmunks, coded by chimpanzees, and run by zombies.
Virtually anyone who has tried to purchase insurance in the individual market will attest that it was complicated and time consuming. People were denied and priced out, and they had few if any real choices.
This is why the Marketplace matters. It is simple and user-friendly, and the coverage is affordable.
To be fair to the secretary, there is no doubt that the online experience at the website will become easier with fewer hassles over time. How long is anyone's guess. It could be weeks, or months - and even then it is not likely that buyers will have an easy time of it.
As for Sebelius, I understand there's a beautiful facility in Maryland just outside of Washington that has all the amenities - including rooms with padded walls colored a lovely shade of fuchia with designer leather restraints.
At least she'll be able to get a nice, long rest.