Oct 24 2013

ObamaCare Website Going To Need Major Surgery

Published by at 8:05 am under All General Discussions

Apparently the Administration’s BS blitz over the last 33 weeks is as successful as the ObamaCare roll out itself – in that it is not working. More and more Democrats are breaking ranks and calling for a delay in aspects of the individual mandate. And the same group of amateurs that brought us the failed Healthecare.gov ‘experience‘, and then the totally fictional ‘tech surge‘, are now touting a 6 week delay.

I am going to predict (safely) this 6 week number was pulled from the same place as all that rosy rhetoric on how well the roll out of ObamaCare was going to be, how the issues at roll out where just ‘glitches’, and how a bunch of the ‘best and brightest’ would turn this around in 2 weeks.

The  administration’s credibility is completely shot.

Today I am seeing some really intriguing and well crafted statements in the news. Hints of what is going on behind the curtain of secrecy. First up is Ezra Klein from the WaPo – former ObamaCare cheerleader

BL: … There are two sides to this coin. The numbers of people enrolling and then the problems in processing enrollment information between federal government and insurance companies. If I were spinning for the White House I would say enrollment is up 50 percent! But that’s because it’s up from like 10 a day to 15 a day. I haven’t talked to large insurers seeing more than 100 enrollments a day.

On the backdoor, the 834 connections, I had one client tell me they saw some improvement in the error rate, so I checked with three other clients, and they said they hadn’t seen any improvement.

EK: Let’s go back to the 834s for a minute. This sounds like it should be an easy problem to solve. The 834 standard is widely used. It’s not particularly complicated. What’s going wrong? 

BL: I don’t know. This process is decades old. Every union and every self-insured employer who contracts with an insurance company uses it. It’s like a 74 Ford pick-up truck. There’s nothing complicated about it. People in the industry are shaking their heads over the errors they’re getting. They’ve been using this process for many years. No one has ever seen these kinds of errors before. No one has any idea where they’re coming from.

Wow – that is pretty bad.  The system is broke on the inputs and on the outputs. Which means it is broke pretty much all the way through. The 834 messages FORMATS have been used before, I am sure of that. But I am also sure they have never been used in this manner. Too many keep popping out, as if they are being generated at multiple stages in the process. When you read about 5-6 messages coming out per applicant, enrolling, un-enrolling, etc what this tells me is different pieces of the overall system are triggering 834 messages depending on the feedback they are getting as the exchange is trying to build the applicant’s background record. It creates this record so it can identify which plans/options the applicant has to chose from. It goes back to this diagram of the overall exchange ‘architecture’ I found [click to enlarge]:

If different parts of the system are triggering these 834 messages with incomplete, partial or erroneous data, then the entire system architecture will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

I would love to see what we in the industry call a stoplight chart on the above diagram. A stoplight chart colors each piece of the system red, yellow or green based on its health.

My guess is most of that chart is red. There are a lot of juicy details in the article, but here is the bottom line:

I think the administration needs to ask three questions here. Can they fix it on the run? Do they need to shut it down for a short period of time? Do they need to shut it down for a long period of time? That’s what the new czar is going to be asking.

The fact Obama is thinking 6 week delay in signing up tells me the stop light chart is all yellows and reds (with more reds) and that they have actually shut it down. One team will probably keep trying to make incremental changes, while another team goes ‘off line’ to perform major surgery. The more the system has to be redesigned, the longer the off line major surgery will take. And it will need real testing this time!

Here’s another great source of details from Time. It also has a clue to how ubiquitous the problems must be across the entire exchange architecture:

In mid-October, he went to Healthcare.gov to help a family member get insurance, only to find his progress blocked. When he investigated the cause, he discovered that one part of the website had created so much “cookie” tracking data that it appeared to exceed the site’s capacity to accept his login information.  That’s  the mark of a fractured development team.

In Layman’s terms each development team on each piece of code had to develop as if they were the only code talking to the applicants. Instead of an integrated design were ‘cookie’ tracking data was shared across all software elements, each team developed their own tracking data.

If you want a clear sign of how bad it is, this is it. It means the code is all ‘stove-piped’ – doing what it needs to do to function, ignoring (or ignorant of) overlapping information in other code. And if this code responds incoherently to the same information, then you get garbage out the back end.

Think of it as turn signals in traffic. If some drivers decided the turn signal meant the driver was going to go the opposite direction we would see collisions and endless traffic jams.

Given the size of the ‘cookie’ tracking data problem, just running through this will take weeks. It also means there was not enough detailed interfaces design work between the coders. This must be really ugly.

This next item is simply unforgivable – personal identifiable information being transmitted in the clear:

Even more alarming were the security flaws. An error message from the site relayed personal information over the internet without encryption, while the email verification system could be bypassed without access to the email account. Both security vulnerabilities could be exploited to hijack an account. “Because this is a huge system that people are mandated by law to use, the standard should be higher,” says Simo. “People are going to see it as a high value target.”

That is against the law and a firing offense. This leaves applicants open to identity theft.  When NASA had a breach like this recently they had to cover the people who were exposed with identity theft protection. It was a costly mistake.

Here is another good round up of details.

What strikes me as interesting is we always hear the Data Hub is functioning ‘well’ or doing its ‘basic’ function. The defense of the Data Hub is front and center all the time. Which tells me this was center piece of the system and is very special to CMS. As lead architect and integrator, the Data Hub was obviously someone’s brain child inside the government. Someone who is still trying to salvage their baby. Why else do we always get a rosy picture called out for the Hub and only the Hub?

It may be nothing, but my Spidy Sense is telling me the Hub is the nexus of most of these issues.

I will end this post with some great observations from Megan McArdle and 7 myths surrounding ObamaCare fixes:

4. Bringing in “the Best and the Brightest”: The White House’s use of this phrase to describe the outside help they were soliciting was unfortunate, since it was originally coined by an author describing how very smart, motivated idealists got us into a decade-plus quagmire in Vietnam. Also unfortunate, however, is the idea that the White House was trying to convey. Even if you could somehow assemble a dream team of crack developers and tech managers, and parachute them in to take over this operation, that wouldn’t magically enable the administration to fix this malfunctioning site by Nov. 15. In fact, it would pretty much ensure that the site didn’t get fixed in time. The new team would have to spend weeks figuring out how the site was put together, and who did what, and who they needed to talk to in order to purchase office supplies. And a developer friend, meditating on his brief experience as a consultant, points out that they would have to get all that information from people who in effect just received the following message: “You all suck, and we’re bringing in more expensive, better people to fix your crap. Please help them succeed.”

While outsiders may be valuable for small, concrete tasks and a fresh take on particularly tough problems, they can’t just come in and fix everything. If the contractors and HHS managers who built the federal exchange can’t fix it in the next month, then it’s just not going to get fixed in the next month. Or as the same developer friend put it: “Ramping up new people in a month? Hahahaha.”

Yeah, this one makes me laugh every time too.

Update: AllahPundit over at Hot Air has a good run down of the Democrats starting to panic, and the President 6 week delay trial balloon I mentioned in the post above.

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