You know you’ve got a problem when people start a thread on Reddit titled, “How not to optimize a website.”
One Reddit commenter writes...
Dropdowns. That's what killed Obamacare!
The online healthcare exchanges have been plagued with problems since they opened.
We didn’t hear any official word about why they weren’t working in the days after they opened. But now, with problems still occurring a week later, the Obama Administration is weighing in about the cause of the problems.
President Obama’s top technology adviser, Todd Park, is quoted in the New York Times saying the failure is occurring in the initial sign-up section of the website:
“At lower volumes, it would work fine,” Mr. Park said of the website, healthcare.gov. “At higher volumes, it has problems.”
“Right now,” he added, “we’ve got what we think we need. The contractors have sent reinforcements. They are working 24-7. We just wish there was more time in a day.”
One official says wait times have dropped by half. But in our tests, we still couldn’t make it through the sign-up portion of the site.
Where things stand today
We explored the website again this morning. When logging on, the website said, “the system is currently down.” We called the exchange’s help line, as we did last week, and this time we got through (more staff members have been added to call centers).
An assistant told us what we’ve all been hearing since last week -- that the problems were due to heavy traffic on the website.
She said that between 8 am and 8 pm, the website is very busy. She said we’d have better luck when there aren’t so many people on the site (between 6-8 am EDT or after 8 pm EDT).
Some states opted to set up their own exchanges (Michigan - despite the Gov. Snyder’s urging - opted to not set up its own exchange), but even some of those are experiencing problems.
NPR reported last week that the online sites in Maryland and Hawaii worked intermittently at best:
The technological system powering the new health care marketplace is the first of its kind. Nothing similar exists anywhere in the world, according to administration health officials.
"Systems of this scale are very difficult. You know, Facebook wasn't built in a day," said Frank Febbraro, chief technology officer for Phase 2 Technology, which has built systems for the White House, Homeland Security, and other agencies.
So the system is complex, and right now, resources in the federal government are a little thin. Again, from the New York Times:
As the engineers for the contractors struggle to recover from the Web site’s failures, officials said, the partial shutdown of the federal government is also hampering efforts to carry out Mr. Obama’s health care law and has slowed work on a federal insurance marketplace for residents of more than 30 states.
Marianne Udow-Phillips is the director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation - a non-profit partnership between the University of Michigan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She spoke with Stateside's Cyndy Canty today and reminded people that they don't have to complete the registration all at once, and that people have plenty of time.
The exchanges will be open through March 31, 2014.