Health IT

Healthcare.gov fixer’s one month estimate spurs new analysis of site’s problems

The end of November. That’s the deadline to fix the problems on the federal insurance exchange hub set by Obama administration’s former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffrey Zients. He was appointed Monday to oversee the repair work to the site. A USA Today article quoted Zients who held a conference […]

The end of November. That’s the deadline to fix the problems on the federal insurance exchange hub set by Obama administration’s former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffrey Zients. He was appointed Monday to oversee the repair work to the site.

A USA Today article quoted Zients who held a conference call with journalists:  “There’s a punch list of fixes, and we’re going to punch them out one by one.” QSSI will be the general contractor for the repair work. QSSI is owned by Optum, which is part of the health care services arm of national payer UnitedHealthcare. Andrew Slavitt represented the company at the uproarious House Committee hearing  yesterday. Zients said that by the end of November the hub would “work smoothly” for “most of the people using the website”.

Slavitt said during the hearing that the company had raised concerns about the website that seemed to go unheeded. A CMS spokeswoman said QSSI was being used because it’s “familiar with the complexity of the system” and “have the skills and expertise to address these problems right now.”

Zients catalogued some of the errors. He said volume caused the initial problems but performance problems caused frozen screens and error messages. Functional problems prevented software from working properly.

Among the problems that have stymied users are problems processing applications — only three out of every 10 people have succeeded. Even then, insurance companies have been receiving duplicate applications and applications riddled with critical errors such as a husband being listed as a dependent child.

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog produced a nifty infographic illustrating the problems encountered on healthcare.gov.

But some are troubled that the site will not be shut down even as the problems are being fixed.  Bloomberg Business News produced a really interesting article cataloging high-profile website crashes that drives home the point that almost anything that can wrong will go wrong. On the healthcare side, it interviewed John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He recounted his own experience overseeing  the repair of a network crash at Beth Israel about 10 years ago. It prevented doctors and nurses from viewing images, ordering tests, and sending e-mail for three days.

 “Everyone was so anxious to jump back on the system that we let users back on after a partial fix,” Halamka said. “That was a complete mistake. A partially functioning system is worse than a non-functioning system” because it can lead to faulty data and incomplete database transactions. That will cause more problems further down the line, he said.