Tech Expert: Scrap the Obamacare Site and Start Over
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The Fiscal Times
November 6, 2013

Two weeks ago, the Obama administration promised Americans that by the end of November, Healthcare.gov would be working smoothly for “the majority of users.”

But persistent problems continue to plague the website, raising questions over whether the White House will really be able to meet its deadline.

In the last week alone, Healthcare.gov and its main data hub have suffered a series of major outages on top of the spate of glitches and technical errors that have paralyzed it since the official launch on Oct 1.

The latest outage occurred mid-afternoon on Monday when the enrollment system was down for 90 minutes. Consumers were unable to sign up or verify their accounts during that time, according to officials from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing Obamacare’s implementation.

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“We are clearly frustrated with the current state of the site,” Julie Bataille, communications director for CMS said on a press call Monday. Still, she assured reporters that the site is still “fixable” and that a “team of programmers is working around the clock” to make improvements every week.

But it might not be that simple.

Some tech experts suggest that repairing the existing Healthcare.gov is a hopeless cause and that it should be rebuilt entirely.

Luke Chung, president and founder of FMS, a software development firm based in Virginia, suggested the contractors should not try “to fix something that’s bad.”

“It’s like polishing a turd. Either way, you still have a turd,” Chung said bluntly.

He criticized the design of the site, and said it didn’t need to be so complex.

He said a much simpler site would serve its purpose better, make it easier for the public to use and would likely only take a month to build.

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CMS officials, however, say the best way to fix the website is to continue operating it since every day consumers are enrolling in exchanges on the site. As consumers try to enroll in the exchanges, however, a new batch of problems with the website seems to crop up.

Just this week, officials confirmed that a South Carolina man, who had created an account on the federal exchange’s website, discovered that his personal information had been sent to another person in North Carolina. CMS officials say they are “looking into” the situation—which raises more concerns about the website’s overall security.

Still, despite the wide-ranging problems, the White House is sticking to its hard deadline.

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During a Senate hearing Tuesday, CMS head, Marilyn Tavenner, assured lawmakers that the website will be running smoothly by Nov 30, adding confidently that it has already been improved as she encouraged consumers to “log on and check it out.”

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"Users can now successfully create an account and continue through the full application and enrollment process," Tavenner said. "We are now able to process nearly 17,000 registrants per hour, or 5 per second, with almost no errors."

At the same time, she refused to reveal how many people have actually enrolled in the exchanges, saying that information would come out next week.

Administration officials have been skittish about providing enrollment details, which is understandable since documents released last week by a House oversight committee revealed that only about 248 Americans had signed up in the exchanges within the first days of Obamacare’s official launch.

The incredibly low numbers—likely due to the glitch-ridden Healthcare.gov—have even raised eyebrows from Congressional Democrats –some of whom are now calling to extend the enrollment deadline.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wants a one-year enrollment extension due to the website’s problems, and has called the Obamacare’s rollout “a disaster.” She told Reuters the administration had “clearly dropped the ball.”

Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.