Healthcare.gov Didn’t Work in Tests, Launched Anyway

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2013 Getty Images

Federal officials have expressed dismay about the Healthcare.gov fiasco, but they shouldn't be so shocked that the website doesn't work. While Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted last week, "We didn't have enough testing, specifically for high volumes, for a very complicated project," the tests they did get a chance to run suggested the site wasn't ready for prime time. The Washington Post reports that days before the site was set to go live on October 1, officials ran a test to see if a key part of the site could handle tens of thousands of users at once. It crashed after only a few hundred people logged on, but the launch continued as scheduled. Predictably, when about 2,000 people tried to complete the website's first step at midnight, the site froze.

In another test, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency tasked with running the federal exchange, asked roughly ten insurers to check out the site and offer suggestions. About a month before site went live, the test group said the problems were so serious that the launch should be delayed. Those working on the site knew that wasn't an option, so they kept working and hoped all the pieces would come together in time. Per the Post:

Some key testing of the system did not take place until the week before launch, according to this person. As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.

Of course, we now know their metaphoric all-nighter didn't produce an "A" paper in the end. Some of the last-minute decisions led to the site's biggest problems. According to The Wall Street Journal, CGI Federal, one of the main contractors, told congressional investigators that the Obama administration decided to require users to register for an account before browsing for insurance plans. Thus, the fragile site was even more overloaded by new accounts from people who have health insurance but just wanted to check out Obamacare.

An option to "see plans now" without registering has already been added, but it's unclear if that has anything to do with the "tech surge" promised by the White House. Officials were vague about who's on the team cleaning up HealthCare.gov, and two sources told The Journal on Monday that no new experts have arrived at their sites to start cleaning up the mess.