As it has the previous few weeks, news about the reboot of the Affordable Care Act website again overflowed the IT-related problem space last week, for the final time Obama Administration officials hope.
Obamacare website 2.0 was launched over the weekend, with the Administration claiming that the updated site is superbly better than when it was first rolled out on 1 October. For instance, according to a new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services progress and performance report (pdf), the website's response time is now less than 1 second instead of the previous 8 seconds, the per page system times out are now only 1 percent of the time instead of over 6 percent, and some 50 000 concurrent users can now access the site, instead of the measly 500 or less on 1 October.
However, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, even as she was touting the ACA website’s “dramatic improvement,” also urged potential users to visit the ACA website during “off-peak hours when there is less traffic — mornings, evenings, or on weekends” or to “sign up for coverage… by phone, in person, and by mail. In many cases, you can also directly enroll through an insurance company.” That is probably good advice, for news reports from yesterday indicate that instead of the website being able to support 50 000 concurrent users, about 35 000 concurrent users is actually the reality.
Insurers have been less than impressed with the new and improved website, though. According to the New York Times, customers may be able to sign up for insurance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually been enrolled for insurance because sign-up information isn’t reaching the insurers or the information sent contains corrupted or incomplete data. As a result, the Times reports, insurers are saying “they had received calls from consumers requesting insurance cards because they thought they had enrolled in a health plan through the federal website, but the insurers said they had not been notified.”
Insurers were also unhappy last week when the Administration announced that the back-end system needed to pay insurers was being delayed from being finished in January to a date not yet specified. The insurers have been told they now need estimate what they are owed, and then they and the government can reconcile the differences. Small businesses also joined the unhappiness queue last week, as the Administration delayed the small business health insurance exchange by a year. Also in line are Oregonians, who have seen that state’s exchange fall into a technological abyss compounded by admissions of multiple security breaches.
Despite all of this disquieting news, there is hope on the horizon, the Administration says. For according to the CMS progress and performance report, the team that is working on ACA website and back office systems “is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness, and will continue their work to improve and enhance the website in the weeks and months ahead.” In fact, the team is making such good progress, that former Obama senior adviser David Plouffe was moved to optimistically predict on Sunday that the ACA will “work really well” by 2017. Plouffe didn’t hazard an estimate of how much getting to that state of ACA nirvana will ultimately cost in both financial and personal terms, however.
The other IT-related impediments, deficiencies and malfunctions of the week centered on the teeth-gnashing issues involving the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) new $162 million customer billing system. News reports state that over 70 000 faulty bills have been issued by its new customer information and billing system that was rolled out in September (pdf), which has led in some cases to DWP customers having their utilities incorrectly shut off. And in another bit of embarrassment for the DWP, it was scrambling to explain to LA taxpayers last week why it hid the fact that the true cost of the new billing system is nearly three times higher than what it had been previously publicly proclaiming.
Finally, last week’s IT hiccup news included various financially-related IT irritations to consumers during the annual period of U.S. shopping madness disguised as the Thanksgiving holiday, as well as hardware and software problems that accompanied the launches of the new Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One consoles.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Scrambles to Fix Billing System Mess
Over 70 000 Faulty Bills Sent out By LA Department of Water and Power
LA City Council Unanimously Votes To Halt DWP Utility Shutoffs
DWP Agrees To Halt Utility Shutoffs Until End of the Year
LA DWP Admits Major Billing Problems Won’t be Fixed Until Spring 2014
Shoppers Experience Holiday Buying Frustrations
WalMart’s Black Friday One-hour Guarantee That Wasn’t
WalMart Suffers Another Online Pricing “Technical Glitch”
SunBank’s Multiple Transaction Error Hits Shoppers across the Country
Academy Bank “Glitch” Multiplies and Declines Customers’ Purchase Transactions
Hiccups Mar New Sony and Microsoft Consoles Launches
Sony to Replace PlayStation Consoles Suffering “Blue Light of Death”
PlayStation Network in Europe Struggling with Launch of PlayStation 4
Some Microsoft’s Xbox One Consoles Have “Disk Drive of Doom”
Of Other Interest …
Florida’s New Unemployment System Continues to Frustrate Unemployed Workers
Hardware Failure Takes Out FirstLight Federal Credit Union Online Banking
Ford Recalling 7 100 2013-2014 Model Year Lincoln MKZ Hybrids to Fix Transmission Software
Software Problem Affects Issuance of Disability Certificates in India
New Speed Camera Issues Ticket to Parked Car in Chicago
Reebok Trainers Are “Free” Thanks to Online Sales Error
Photo: Nick Ut/AP Photo
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.