The site looks pretty, but creating an account is still impossible. Is this a temporary glitch or something more?
Days into the launch of Obamacare, I still can't create an account.
After spending a half-hour trying to log into healthcare.gov, I was prompted to enter my name, select a username and password, and set the answers to some challenge questions.
But then I was rerouted to the government's equivalent of a 404 Error (sic): "Important: Your account coudlnt be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
"Marty," the friendly, if not overly helpful person on the other end of the website, referred me to the Marketplace system's hotline, the now infamous 1-800-318-2596. A cheerful woman on the other line apologized, saying she couldn't help me create an account but only could answer questions about what plans might be available once I had done so.
Her advice? Wait a few days. Then try again.
According to Uncle Sam, on October 1, 4.7 million Americans tried to log on to healthcare.gov and many of them got no further than I did. Some Obamacare opponents say this is a leading indicator the whole system is a mess. Backers (including the president) say it just indicates interest and that it's no more a problem than most corporate rollouts experience.
"Glitches" are inevitable.
"You're always going to have challenges when you're rolling out any kind of exchange environment that hasn't been fully tested. It's not unusual," said Dorothy Miraglia, vice-president of benefits for Engage PEO, a human resources outsourcing organization.
Michael Quintos of Digital Ad Agency, who manages teams of software developers and has rolled out interactive web sites for many large clients, agreed. "There's no such thing as bug free software," he said. "Better to get it out there and work on it. It's the advice I'd give a small business owner or a corporate client."
He added he was impressed with the design of the site, but not its technical prowess. "It has to work visually and technically. They've got the visual part down, pat."
Give it time. Like, until tomorrow.
Though the launch was disastrous, it's important to remember open enrollment lasts until March 31.
"Given that people have 180 days to enroll and that coverage does not start until January 1st, 2014, there isn't a pressing need to be able to serve everyone on October 1," said Adam C. Powell, president of Payer+Provider, a consulting firm that helps health insurance companies and hospitals overcome operating challenges.
The question is how much time is reasonable.
"From a purely technical perspective, this is a complicated web project and I'd give the team high grades so far. If by the weekend all glitches are cleaned up, this will not be remembered," Quintos said. However, "if it's not up by Friday or maybe even Saturday or the weekend, then I think they absolutely owe it to the American people to say, 'Okay we're going to delay this another 30 days.'"
The real problem? Politics.
Of course, part of the problem with a huge, unwieldy program has to do with the myriad compromises and state and federal systems required to get it enacted. Which has led to repetitive bureaucracies at the state and federal levels, said Deane Waldman, a pediatric cardiologist and author of the book, The Cancer in Healthcare. "Everybody seems focused on the immediate and the technical, without looking at the big picture. The law is incredibly and unnecessarily complex ... and that makes everybody, both states and feds, create a bureaucracy that is unnecessarily complex and user-unfriendly."