A ‘Tech Surge’ Will Probably Still Take Weeks to Fix Obamacare Website

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Photo: Joe Raedle/2013 Getty Images

The problems with the Affordable Care Act website have the Obama administration in a full-court press, both to fix the technical issues and to put the best spin possible on its fiasco of a launch. The president plans to speak about the site's ongoing problems in the White House Rose Garden on Monday, appearing with people who have actually used the website to enroll. And the Department of Health and Human Services announced a "tech surge" of "some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government" to fix the site. They think they know pretty much what's wrong with the site, the New York Times reports. Unfortunately, it's a huge job that's probably going to take weeks to fix.

Administration officials over the weekend touted an AP story that reported nearly 500,000 applications had been filed online (sourced, as ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein points out, to anonymous administration officials). But the sources on that story wouldn't say how many of those applications had gone through, crucial to understanding the progress on the administration's goal of insuring seven million by March.

HHS has already made a few changes to the Healthcare.gov site, allowing users to see more options up front, and making it easier to apply by phone or mail. But the most deeply flawed part of the system is on the back end, where it's supposed to gather data from federal databases to determine applicants' eligibility for subsidies, then send that data to insurers, the Times reports. That's not happening.

Insurance executives said in interviews that they were frustrated because they did not know the government’s plan or schedule for repairs. Insurers have found that the system provides them with incorrect information about some enrollees, repeatedly enrolls and cancels the enrollments of others, and simply loses the enrollments of still others.

The fix requires "extensive rewriting of software code," the Times reports. One specialist said up to five million lines of code would have to be rewritten. So regardless of how many resources and experts the HHS throws at the problem, it's still a very big job and one that's going to take up valuable time to fix.