This article should frighten people. The federal government had 3+ years to put the exchanges together. Moving cautiously and deliberately, the geniuses in charge of a major project for the federal government got things disastrously wrong:
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.”
Saying that the IT ‘experts’ in the federal government will have to “reconfigure” the software behind the exchanges is a polite way of saying that they’ll have to throw out much of what’s been done. Here’s why the software will need a major redesign:
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, said Matthew Hancock, an independent expert in website design. He was able to track the files being requested through a feature in the Firefox browser.
It is not clear why the upload function was included.
“They set up the website in such a way that too many requests to the server arrived at the same time,” Hancock said. He said 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.
In other words, the software unleashes a torrent of instuctions for the processor to process. According to these experts, the instructions overwhelm the processing unit.
Considering the fact that the federal government worked on this important part of the Affordable Care Act for more than 3 years, why should people think the federal government is capable of running a complex health care/health insurance system? This information is stunning:
Hancock described the situation as similar to what happens when hackers conduct a distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attack on a website: they get large numbers of computers to simultaneously request information from the server that runs a website, overwhelming it and causing it to crash or otherwise stumble. “The site basically DDOS’d itself,” he said.
That’s stunning from the standpoint that the programmers instructed to write the software powering the exchanges wrote it to conduct its own internal hacking attack. Put another way, the programmers couldn’t have screwed the software up more if that’s what they were instructed to do.
Perhaps that’s contributing to the pathetic enrollment figures:
After two days without any word on sign-ups, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana received some reassuring news Wednesday night: Seven people had signed up for its plan on the marketplace that day.
“The first day and second we received no submissions,” spokesman John Maginnis said. “This being day three, we were notified through the healthcare.gov website that we had seven. So that’s very good news. It’s a small number, but it told us the functionality is beginning to perform as its supposed to.”
It’s setting the bar pretty low when you consider 7 people signing up for health insurance over 3 days is “very good news.”
To Cathie Hartnett: This is why Republicans aren’t worried that the Affordable Care Act will become popular.