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Obamacare website - what went wrong?

Posted on 2013-10-27
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Last Modified: 2013-11-20
From a non political perspective only,
what went wrong with the Obamacare website?

SQL and web app connectivity is pretty commonplace. - and can do massively multi-user activity?

What went wrong?
Did they hire a bunch of amateurs ?

They couldn't even do log in.
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Question by:beavoid
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by:Juan Ocasio
ID: 39604583
They paid 600MM for the site. Enough said.

But from a programming perspective, I can only assume they did not have senior developers on the task, QA throughout the development, milestone achievements, or use case scenarios developed and tested.
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by:bigeven2002
ID: 39604592
They paid all that money and the company who developed the site says they were still underfunded.  Where did that money actually go?

In addition to what jocasio said, there should have been stress testing done on the system, an EVSSL cert used, technical support and customer support staff with actual knowledge of the services, and a lookup system for patient identification verification.

None of these appeared to exist on the site.  I wouldn't be surprised if the server wasn't even clustered, it was probably using an old Pentium 4 machine with 512 MB ram that they paid $100,000 for.
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by:jsdray
ID: 39604601
When you're more worried about the deadline than the functionality.... failure is imminent.
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by:Juan Ocasio
ID: 39604614
But  jsdray, they have over two years to develop it.  It goes way beyond just having a deadline. 600MM is an awful lot of money for what was developed.  Obviously, we can't see the backend, but the UI is horrendous.  Having to navigate several screens for what could have been put on one screen just doesn't make sense.
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by:Scott Fell, EE MVE
ID: 39604663
All that can be done here is speculate.  

>When you're more worried about the deadline than the functionality.... failure is imminent.
From what was said, it sounded like the functionality changed at the last minute.  If you ever had a client that changed their mind after you have been over everything and went from point A to point B via a specific route, then they changed to go to point C, it is not a small thing.  

I also read the specs from the very beginning where open.  One of the vendors that worked on it also worked on medicare.gov and many other govt sites.   It was not like they don't know what they were doing, but they will probably be given the blame.   It it is true about last minute changes but sticking to a deadline, that is probably the answer.
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by:beavoid
ID: 39604681
What is a blind link?
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by:beavoid
ID: 39604696
Was this reported 2 u? Not all posts can be monitored!
Thx
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by:jsdray
ID: 39604776
ok..no problem, but this is the first I heard of that... I was posting valid information links...  would have been nice to see this explanation sooner.  I've lost out on credit as well as passing on valid information....   here's what I posted that was deleted...

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/14/obamacares-website-is-crashing-because-it-doesnt-want-you-to-know-health-plans-true-costs/


is that better?
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by:jsdray
ID: 39604778
Not all deletions were even being posted....  had me pulling out my hair trying to figure out what was going on!
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by:Ray Paseur
Ray Paseur earned 251 total points
ID: 39605289
Actually, I think Avik Roy's Forbes Article was exactly on point.  The implementation team knew last winter that this rollout was going to be a disaster.

If you want to see some of the things wrong with the healthcare.gov, open a private browsing window and do "view source."

Then look at the output of the validator.
http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.healthcare.gov%2F&charset=%28detect+automatically%29&doctype=Inline&group=0

Then try to envision assembling a staff of software development professionals who understood the risks of passing personal data around in clear text through JavaScript, who understood the APIs of 50 different state health care programs, and who understood how to build to scale.

Add to that a system that has, literally, nobody in charge.  Congress wants to hold hearings to find out what went wrong and they can't even figure out who to subpoena.  The initial bids were $90MM.  The as-built cost at the opening failure was $580MM.  The contractors who received the money say it's the Government's fault.  Secretary Sebelius says she didn't tell the President it was not working - he had to find out just like everyone else.  The program is totally rudderless.

Anyone who has experience in large-scale systems development has been required to read Fred Brooks seminal treatise, The Mythical Man Month.  Among other things he advises that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later" and "plan to throw one away."  This latter point is where most of the Obamacare software failures are originating.  What Brooks teaches us is that even the most well-reasoned and thoughtfully designed software will not work right at its first implementation, and that designs will, of necessity, change when the software is first built.  It's not a question of whether you will need to throw the first build away, because you will have to throw it away.  The only question is whether you will deliver it to the customers and make them throw it away.  The site suffers from both accidental complexity and essential complexity.  Oh, by the way, there was a design criterion that the site was required to keep the rates secret from the clients until it had gathered all of their personal information.

Was there ever an Alpha Release of healthcare.gov?  Was there ever a private Beta?  Was there ever a public Beta?  Trying to release a system like this without formal testing cycles is not a path to success.

The Government has spent more money on this web site than were spent to build Twitter and Facebook together.  And nobody is going to be held accountable for the failures.  The contractors will get paid no matter how bad the cost overruns.  The Government employees who are party to the mess will still have their jobs and pensions, and the American public will be stuck with the bill.

Executive summary: Political leadership, but no technological leadership, a palpable lack of understanding of the principles of large-scale systems development, inadequate testing, a hard deadline.  All that and I'll bet if you peel the onion, somewhere in the inner layers you will find SELECT * with no LIMIT clause!

Here is the source code from the first private viewing of healthcare.gov -- what does it tell you when you find variables assignments commented out in deployed code?

And now for my brief political commentary.  The site is misnamed.  It's called healthcare.gov, but it has nothing to do with health CARE.  It's only about health INSURANCE.  That's all the law does - makes it a crime not to buy health insurance.  There is nothing in the law that can do anything at all to improve health care in America.

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Open in new window

0
 
LVL 9

Expert Comment

by:jsdray
ID: 39605390
I appreciate the explanation netminder, but I think you singled me out and just started deleting everything I posted in that fashion without giving it a second look to see that it actually was valid information.  Sometimes the jibber jabber isn't necessary and the link speaks for itself.   This hurts the question author as well as the "expert" trying to assist.    I think it's a bad policy change.
last poster thought my link was "exactly on point"
0
 
LVL 52

Expert Comment

by:Scott Fell, EE MVE
ID: 39605451
As both expert and seeker, I don't see any comparison between a post that is just a link  http:Q_28278593.html#a39604776 and an excellent explanation http:Q_28278593.html#a39605289 based on the article.  I think many news media links are good only for a specific time period and Ray's post will always be on EE.  Plus it is obvious from his words that Ray knows is stuff.
0
 
LVL 9

Expert Comment

by:jsdray
ID: 39605540
I think EE is now being managed by the same folks who brought you healthcare . gov
I've been an EE member for almost 10 years... may be time to say goodbye
0
 
LVL 9

Expert Comment

by:jsdray
ID: 39605550
notice I didn't use a blind link there....
0
 

Assisted Solution

by:beavoid
beavoid earned 0 total points
ID: 39605581
commented out variables means that it was it was a 'shit, I don't actually need that' move, mindless design, like I used to make in the early 90's with Turbo Pascal as a 10 year old, though I didn't comment out, I deleted. - because I totally programmed from a 'try stuff until it works' framework. Using clear text data transfer means they couldn't use google to read up basic security needs. What would the clear text encoding section look like? complex?
Though this was a bunch of amateurs, probably. Were they even vetted? Hire anyone who knows how to open Eclipse or a web design app? Would they have needed a solo Java section, processing? or would ASP, PHP, Javascript be enough? What hosting company housed it?

Did they think their server in a tool-shed would be better than Godaddy ?

They tested it, probably with only 2 or 3 sign ups. So, the top level people had no clue about the stress testing required for a super-massive product?
Login didn't work for .. sake. How do you proceed? or was Megyn Kelly testing the wrong section?
0
 
LVL 108

Assisted Solution

by:Ray Paseur
Ray Paseur earned 251 total points
ID: 39605632
@beavoid: Funny!  But you're right to question the news media, too.  

Since I live and work in Washington, DC, I have a unique perspective on the rollout.  In and around the Government there is only one thing that creates motivation and that thing is political pressure.  Money doesn't matter -- it's the Government, and there is no financial accountability or "cost" to wasting money.  A five hundred percent cost overrun does not matter.  A five hundred million dollar cost overrun is just not important.  Professional reputation doesn't matter.  Most of the rank and file employees will retire from Government jobs; they're not trying to win the next big thing by moving to industry.  Quality of work product doesn't matter (Think FEMA trailers that were poisoned with Formaldehyde).  So what if you have a balky web site?  It doesn't matter.  Only political pressure matters.  This makes the calculus very simple.

The President said, "We're starting on October 1."  That's when the rollout takes place and no amount of common sense could argue successfully for a desperately needed delay.  You see, the Republicans had tried to get a delay.  And if Obama permitted a delay it would have seemed like he was giving in to Republican demands, even if he was granting a delay so the program could be made to work better.

In American politics we do a lot of things like this.
0
 
LVL 33

Assisted Solution

by:Slick812
Slick812 earned 166 total points
ID: 39605998
Thanks Ray_Paseur for posting the Page HTML for that page, I looked over this Page source and the javascript is far-far-far from efficient, it does not even seem to be coorordinated between different sections of javascript,
Here is an absolutely unbelievable (to me) code section of JS  at line 1552 -
$(function() {
var langCode;
// UNBELIEVABLE IF TEST BELOW
if ('en' == 'es') { // can never be true, NO Variable test "Hard Coded strings"
        langCode = 'es_MX';
    }

if ('en' == 'en') { // always true, NO Variable test "Hard Coded strings"
        langCode = 'en_US';

        }
  $('.span1 a.btn-mini.btn-lang, #header .lang').removeClass('nodisplay').attr('href', url);
    }

Open in new window

If I had a js coder working for me that submitted this code, I'd kick their butt up around their eyes, this is bad code even for someone that isn't paid.

I looked at the function -
function showRemaining() {    }
   at line 1266, this function code looks like something a JS beginner would copy and paste from a tutorial JS date( ) page, , , Also This "remaining Days" IS NOT dependent on the users local date, and should be set On the server side.
I would suggest that there is NO ONE (experienced coder) set to have Responsibility for the overall "CODE" for this project (server-side, DHTML, CSS, Javascript) and pull all of it together into a working web site. As In  - On the server side there is likely massive "Code Bloat", where the separate systems (moduals) do repetitive code methods (same methods, set-up and/or testing done several times in different code moduals) and lack of total system integration, as the separate code moduals run as independent aspects, and NOT as working parts of a bigger whole, I see this all the time in big code projects that have several coders (4 or 5) that are working on their own code specialty systems (modual),
0
 
LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39606184
So, @Slick812, you're saying it wasn't worth $500,000,000 ?
0
 
LVL 33

Expert Comment

by:Slick812
ID: 39606298
So, @Slick812, you're saying it wasn't worth $500,000,000 ?

HA HA HA,
I'm ROLLING ON THE FLOOR Laughing so hard I can Cry ! ! ! ! Ray is most funny for UNDERSTATEMENT!

 as answer = = = = = NO ! !, that site is NOT worth the "paper it's written on" (american expression for worthless)
0
 
LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39606321
@NM: I think the scaling problems at Twitter (which are in the distant rear-view mirror now) were an artifact of prototyping with Ruby on Rails.

Start small and grow? What an idea!  Heck, if you looked around, you might even find that unit testing was a thing.
0
 
LVL 53

Expert Comment

by:COBOLdinosaur
ID: 39606618
I have remain quiet up to now.  Because this is like almost all failed web projects.  It failed long before it was ever deployed; and long before it was given any testing. I may have even failed before the first line of code was written.

100% standards compliant code is 100% correct, !00% of the time.


If the applicable standards were not specified the project was doomed.  If there was not mechanism for enforcing standards the project was doomed.  If they actually put standards in place then looking at the code tells us they either ignored recognized international standards, or their enforcement mechanism was flawed or not followed in which case the project was doomed the first time a non-standard piece of crap became part of the package.

Garbage in; garbage out.  It doenot matter how many competent developers, designers and administrators you have; if just one idiot is allow to put trash in the package, you might as well put together a project written by 10-year olds and monkeys because that is the level of discipline attention span that you get when standards go out the window.

Cd&
0
 
LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
ID: 39607792
When you're more worried about the deadline than the functionality.... failure is imminent

This.

If the applicable standards were not specified the project was doomed.  

aaaaaand this.

Add to that a system that has, literally, nobody in charge.

oh, and that too.

:)
0
 
LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39608409
In case you missed it this morning, NBC and CNBC have uncovered documents showing that Obama's repeated public reassurances that "if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan" were known by the administration to be false statements as long as three years ago.  So the troubles with the web site are the tip of the iceberg.  Now it goes to a question of lying to Congress and to the American people.  And that is a political problem which will cause action in Washington, DC.
0
 

Author Comment

by:beavoid
ID: 39608962
The fact that they hired obvious novices to do this gets me.
I know it is a super-massive site, but a password setup of public key, private key, instead of plain-text password and personal info transfer - is pathetic.
0
 
LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
ID: 39609376
The fact that they hired obvious novices to do this gets me.

That's the thing.  The company is not "obvious novices" and, in fact, a fairly well-known and successful company in this space:

http://www.cgi.com/en

So something else was in play.
0
 
LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39609530
Agreed.  CGI has many government contracts.  But maybe the ability to get government contracts and the ability to execute the contracts are not the same.  Maybe the government should have hired these guys: http://www.dobt.co/

But to be fair to everyone involved, there is no way this project could have succeeded at all, no matter who was running the train.Where is the "Obamacare Girl" now?
0
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Author Comment

by:beavoid
ID: 39609535
That is disturbing.

Your link is not to a clown show.

Why did they send user info as plain text? baffling incompetence. That's one why I felt novices.

Do you think it was perks and under the table contracting? Someone mentioned a connection to Michelle / college associates?

Does that page code link/hint to/at a specific Website development studio they used?
0
 
LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39609556
CGI's trading symbol is "GIB" which wikipedia defines as "a castrated male ferret."  Sorry, you just can't make this stuff up!
http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=GIB
0
 
LVL 53

Expert Comment

by:COBOLdinosaur
ID: 39610361
From that W P article:

"CGI Federal began lobbying as it started winning government work."


When the U. S. still had a legitimate government spending 800 million to get government contracts would have been called bribery.  Today it is call a campaign contribution; and it is just a corrupt as the bribes paid in third world countries.

The system is a failure because of corruption.  The kind of crap that goes on in Washinton is the same kind of crap that happens in big cities for landfill contracts, concrete, and and just about anything else where inflated prices pay for the payoff; but in Washington the corruption is on a grand scale that is unmatched anywhere in the world except perhaps China and Russia.

Cd&
0
 
LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39610411
I don't know everything, but I've sold some hardware and software to the Federal Government.  I see a very visible trend among the K-Street law firms that used to lobby congress for policy and legal matters, and it is that these same firms now lobby across both the legislative and executive branches to influence specific contract awards.  It's a good investment to hire a lobbyist.  When you can win a $90MM contract and extract $580MM from it, why should you ever compete on price?  Just pay the lobbyist 10% of the contract award value.  This works out to less than 2% of the ultimate take, and that's a very reasonable sales commission.
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Author Comment

by:beavoid
ID: 39615960
It cant get any worse.
What could possibly turn this back to acceptability?
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LVL 17

Expert Comment

by:bigeven2002
ID: 39616004
I wouldn't say that, things could easily get worse, more detail is eventually released on what happened.  It seems like they are spending more time finding a fall guy rather than taking responsibility and fixing it.
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39616662
They fixed it!!!
http://newhealthcaregov.com/
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39616716
This is not a satire.  We now know the reasons that administration officials have been reluctant to release usage statistics about the Obamacare web site.

Washington news sources are reporting that they have gotten leaked numbers on the Obamacare web site.  On the first day, 6 people signed up.  This brings the cost-per-person to ninety seven million dollars, not including the cost to fix the site.  

Draw your own conclusions about big government programs.
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LVL 65

Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
ID: 39616719
>This brings the cost-per-person to ninety seven million dollars, not including the cost to fix the site.  
Not sure which statement is funnier, Ray's ratio above, or the website..
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LVL 33

Assisted Solution

by:Slick812
Slick812 earned 166 total points
ID: 39616989
Hoff -HA- Gog- HE -HA , Laughs,  Spits, Stumbles, LOL
@  Ray_Paseur, , I went to   http://newhealthcaregov.com/
Tanks for that link!
Funny Site!
Loved this at the end of page-


Alternative Ways to Apply:
--Smoke Signals
--Morse Code
--Sign Language
--Messenger Boy
--Pony Express

just try to click the green "Apply" Now
a Riot!


[aside comment] - as most web developers here know, fixing a cranky server-side web site, with code from several many code-heads, almost never results in less "more efficient" code, and almost never addresses the overall crappy project design pitfalls, especially the nott-head "Data Base" table relationships, that are so crucial to a properly functioning Complex Web Site.
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39618770
Colbert called it a "tech-turd-taco."
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39627288
Looking a little beyond the web site, to the eventuality of having the government more and more involved in health care (a logical next step now that it's gotten involved in health insurance) we find this example.  Venezuela should be a wealthy nation.  It sits atop the world's largest proven oil reserves and its constitution guarantees free health care.  Of the 50,000 hospital beds in the country, 42,000 are run by the government, yet they treat less than half of the sick.  There is no anesthesia for elective surgery.  Doctors say it's impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn't keep such numbers.
http://news.yahoo.com/doctors-venezuelas-health-care-collapse-051102447.html
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
ID: 39627502
On the flip side, most of Western Europe and Canada seems to have figured out effective single payer systems. It's not impossible.
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LVL 53

Assisted Solution

by:COBOLdinosaur
COBOLdinosaur earned 83 total points
ID: 39628418
Up here, in Canada, we have not just figured out a single payer system.  We have better over all outcomes than the U. S. at less than half the cost. We have 2 years longer life expectancy and a better infant mortality rate, a longer survival rate after heart attacks and no one ever goes broke because they got sick.  Their is no advance treatment that is not available to us because if it cannot be done in Canada then the government plan pays the costs of having it done outside the country.

A single payer government run system is not perfect but it is better than anything that has been tried or proposed in the U. S.  The only bottom line that matters is who healthier, and the U.S. pays more than any country on earth and does not even show up in the top 20 when it comes to outcomes.  

Cd&
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39628503
@jason1178, @COBOLdinosaur: Points well taken.  USA's Unaffordable Care Act got us the insurance mandate, but no additional health care.  We got nothing at all in tort reform, which pushes our costs up to 17% of GDP, when compared to other civilized nations where the cost is closer to 10%.  CNBC commentators expect the cost to rise to 25% of GDP over the next decade.  We have a system that ordered an AIDS test for my 84-year old mother, and then paid the claim without so much as a shrug of disbelief.  It just makes you want to scream!  Try to go to an American hospital and ask how much it will cost to have your appendix removed.  They can't tell you!  Not because they haven't done hundreds of appendectomies, but because they simply don't know anything about their costs.  You have to go ask the insurance companies to find this information.  Ask any man-on-the-street and you're likely to get a blank stare.  The consumer has a relationship with the provider.  The provider has a relationship with the payer.  But the consumer has no real view or understanding of what he is buying and how to evaluate the costs and the value proposition.  It's the most byzantine, anti-capitalistic thing you can imagine.  No wonder Canada gets better outcomes from a single-payer system!
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LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:Jim P.
ID: 39635687
BTW has anyone called the Obama Care (excuse me I mean the [un]Affordable Care Act) number?

It's 1-800-318-2596 or just dial 1-800-F1UC-KYO. Real easy to remember.
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39635696
Where is the "Like" button?!!
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LVL 52

Expert Comment

by:Scott Fell, EE MVE
ID: 39645412
Here is your chance to make a difference in a govt website asking EE for help http://www.experts-exchange.com/Software/Server_Software/Content_Management/WebBased_CMS/Drupal/Q_28293143.html
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Author Comment

by:beavoid
ID: 39645806
Lastly
For me, personally, having done university from 96 ->
- HTML proper
- SQL, db's
- after, PHP

One of my last textbooks came with the code for a working SQL database website, password included!
As Walter (Big Lebowski)  would say, these Obama developers were a bunch of f.amateurs.
This thing could even have been done in Flash! Is SWF completely universal? Can SWiF's handle massive data/ traffic? iPhones now.

Junior high kids are making iPhone apps and selling them. Xcode is not for clowns, so even somewhat capable people should have done an adequate job with Obamacare - with all the working code findable with Google. It is embarrassing knowing that other computer coding ?pros? failed like this.
Who vetted these fools? Were they even vetted?
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LVL 108

Accepted Solution

by:
Ray Paseur earned 251 total points
ID: 39645913
Were they even vetted?
Great question.  As I understand it, this was a sole-source contract and thus it was not subject to either technical or price competition.  In unrelated news, the "Obamacare Girl" was outed by ABC News this morning.
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/11/13/obamacare-cover-girl-revealed-has-not-signed-up/

The markup is gradually getting closer...
http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=healthcare.gov&charset=%28detect+automatically%29&doctype=Inline&group=0
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LVL 10

Expert Comment

by:LukeChung-FMS
ID: 39649651
This is a topic that I've accidentally become a national technical expert on:

Written on October 1 that went viral: Healthcare.gov is a Technological Disaster
The media coverage I've received from the New York Times, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NBC, etc.
Media Coverage for Changing the National Discourse on Healthcare.gov

I originally thought the people who designed and created this were incompetent. Now I realize it all makes sense if consider the government contractor's perspective and which decision would maximize profitability.
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LVL 108

Expert Comment

by:Ray Paseur
ID: 39649859
@NetMinder:  Yes, those are often called IDIQ contracts. It stands for Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity.  It's basically a "schedule" contract like the GSA Schedule.  Anybody who has one can "compete" for the business.  But the point remains the same:  The government did not solicit or receive technical or cost proposals specific to the construction of the web site.  It's a thinly veiled sole-source contract.  I've made a few dollars from these kinds of contracts, but I always delivered what I promised.

In contrast:
http://foxnewsinsider.com/2013/10/29/hannity-krauthammer-michelle-obamas-connection-obamacare-no-bid-contract
http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/obamacare-website-violates-licensing-agreement-copyrighted-software_763666.html
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LVL 65

Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
ID: 39651093
Note to self:  Wonder if my old gig at UnitedHealthcare / OptumInsight (the people who were awarded the 'fix ObamaCare' contract) is going to call me back saying they have a hot SSIS gig for me to work on....
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Author Comment

by:beavoid
ID: 39651393
So many comments made it difficult to choose one.
0
 
LVL 65

Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
ID: 39651479
>They could do a lot worse. Just make sure that medical is one of the benefits...
Absolutely no freaking way.  A rational person would think that a health care company would have at minimum GOOD medical benefits, but UHG has a qualified high-deductible health plan (QHDHP) for all employees.  They do have a couple of ways to reduce your premiums, but you have to follow their twelve-step programs and enter progress online.  And file a claim?  Good luck navigating all the websites.  Exactly the same method they run other groups health care. Way too much work.

Kind of ironic.
0
 

Author Closing Comment

by:beavoid
ID: 39656022
Wow, more than I expected
Thanks
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