Faulty design and a failure to pay attention to errors causes healthcare.gov to be unusable

For several years, the Republicans and Democrats have argued over the Affordable Care Act, neither willing to compromise until forced to. I hate to say I wasn’t surprised when the government shut down temporarily due to the two parties failing to agree on a budget.

Even after the budget was eventually resolved, I didn’t expect the ACA to be finished. However, it was surprising when the next delay wasn’t due to feuding parties, but instead a faulty website.

Most of the Americans who attempted to create an account on healthcare.gov, whether out of need or just plain curiosity, were unable to. The website was reportedly slow and error-laden, with only a lucky handful of the most persistent applicants succeeding in creating an account.

I wanted to see how bad it was, so I visited the healthcare website. I used my parents’ information (who are already covered by their company’s insurance) for the account. The interface was surprisingly friendly for something commissioned by the government; well-designed and easy to understand. But, as reported, it didn’t work at all. After entering some basic login information, I was met with an error message telling me I couldn’t create an account at this time.

I tried again the next day, but couldn’t even get to the sign-up page. In large bolded text it read “The system is down at the moment,” then below that “we’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.” I was curious as to how the same administration that fought so hard for the ACA could allow this to happen.

Researching the problem, the mistakes of the faulty website seem embarrassingly obvious.

Unlike most financial websites, healthcare.gov verifies all personal information entered into the website while creating an account, overflowing the government servers with requests to verify. It’s regular practice for insurance companies to wait until users actually apply, as it’s unnecessary to verify their information while they’re still shopping for programs. Originally, the website would have included an option to browse before registration, but the feature was delayed.

In addition to being structurally unsound, this effectively makes it so that you can only see your own program. Everyone else’s rates are kept a secret.

Additionally, the testing process was short and mismanaged. The site crashed during a test run, and complaints from insurance companies were outright ignored. For whatever reason, the bugs that were known before release were left unfixed, even though they were apparent.

Possibly the only redeeming part of all this is the government’s quick response. It has made it possible to apply by phone, and programmers are working diligently on fixing the site; it is expected to work by the end of the month.