Tech experts say Healthcare.gov glitches could have been avoided

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — We’re almost a week into the launch of the new health insurance marketplace but the Web site continues to be bogged down. Health and Human Services officials say it’s a problem of volume, in the first four days alone Healthcare.gov got 8.6 million unique visitors to its website. But some say this is a problem the feds should have been ready for.

The government says the Web site was designed to handle 50,000 customers at a time and instead it has been drawing as many as 250,000 at a time. Experts spent the weekend trying to beef up capacity but even as the work week begins, we’re being told people are struggling to access the site.

Navigators trained to help people sign up for health insurance on the new marketplace Web site started canceling appointments with people last week since they just couldn’t get online. And now this week they have seen some progress, they tell us they can get accounts set up online, but couldn’t get any further to compare plans and actually get people signed up. HHS Regional Director Stephene Moore says the tech experts are working on the problem.

“We were a little surprised by the sheer numbers that came out, but we’ve done some improvements to the Web site over the weekend,” she said.

Praveen Roa with UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering said the volume problem is common for businesses and organizations launching new programs or products.

“Because you tend to see peak loads once or twice in a year but you can’t afford to have infrastructure to support that 24-7,” he said.

Roa said the solution is cloud computing, where you rent extra resources just for the short time you need it. He said that solution is both more affordable, and more reasonable for programs that will only see bursts of large scale traffic.

“And as soon as you’re done you scale back, that’s the beauty of the cloud, you can scale out and then scale in,” he said.

HHS said people shouldn’t panic if they can’t sign up right now because you have several months to do it. But Roa said that’s not the right philosophy nowadays, where people have tablets and cell phones and laptops.

“Everyone wants information quickly, everyone wants to access information quickly, because they never know what’s going to happen,” he said.

USA Today reports the problems were more complex than just increasing server size and that teams were working on software upgrades. It’s not clear when the upgrades will be finished, but teams are reportedly working around the clock.

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