Healthcare.gov’s Failed Launch

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On October 1, Healthcare.gov, launched to a resounding thud. The core element of Obamacare is that many people can buy health insurance through a national healthcare exchange. Healthcare.gov was designed as the platform for people to do this. On the opening day, the marketing of the plan was so successful, that there appeared to be voracious demand. However, from its launch, Healthcare.gov was plagued with errors. This meant “a mere 1 percent of the 3.7 million people who tried to register for a federal exchange in the first week were actually able to enroll” according to Millward Brown Digital, a consulting firm.

 

These failures have led Ezra Klein, one of the foremost proponents of Obamacare, to dub Healthcare.gov a “failure”. Additionally, it has led Obama and many of his key officials to publicly apologize. Despite these apologies, Healthcare.gov is still not operational. What went wrong and what are the ramifications?

 

According to David Auerbach, a software engineer, who wrote a piece in Slate, the failure of the Healthcare.gov was a failure to assign ownership of the “end-to-end experience”. In other words, no individual or individual contractor was responsible for making sure the entire system worked effectively. Thus, instead of a full-scale comprehensive test of the system, individual pieces were tested separately without any idea of how the system would work as a whole. Worse, when the system failed, it was unclear who was liable and how the problem should be resolved.

 

In response, President Obama has called in the “Best and the Brighest” to fix the problem, which is ironically the title of a book of how “a bunch of smart guys blundered the country into the Vietnam War” (Matt Yglesias). This ignores the implications of another famous book entitled The Mythical Man Month, which states that in a complex software projects adding manpower oftentimes only makes the project more complex. Despite a “tech surge”, the website remains broken with hope of it being fixed “by the end of November”. However, despite these problems the initial fallout has been limited.

 

During the launch of Healthcare.gov, America was in the middle of its first government shutdown since 1995. Thus, the government shutdown was the main story, instead of the failures of Healthcare.gov. While both parties took a hit from the shutdown, the Republicans approval ratings fared far worse. This provided Obama with a cushion.

 

As part of Obamacare, many plans in the individual market were no longer legal, as they provided insufficient coverage or were no longer profitable for insurers. This meant that many individuals who bought healthcare directly from insurance companies were notified of the cancellation of their healthcare plans, despite Obama’s promise that “If you like your [healthcare] plan, you can keep it”. Had the exchange been operational this would have only been a minor problem, since people would’ve been able to replace there existing plan. However, many individuals who trusted Obama felt worried and betrayed.

 

What have been the ramifications for this catastrophic failure? Not much. While Obama’s approval ratings and the approval ratings for Obamacare are down, the failure of Healthcare.gov did not have major ramifications on the 2013 Elections. For example, some claimed that this failure nearly cost the Democrats and Terry MacAuliff, the gubernatorial race in Virginia, but he still won. However, while the fallout so far has been limited, Obama and his new health care plan cannot afford any more failures.

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