Do Opening Day Exchange Glitches Spell Doom for Obamacare?



For months now, one of the biggest questions surrounding the rollout of Obamacare's exchanges was whether the online health insurance portals would work. They've only been open for enrollment for a few hours, but so far, the answer is no.

Several states delayed the opening of their exchanges from the morning until the afternoon. Others opened early, as planned, but crashed, or froze, or generated various glitches and errors.

I encountered numerous operational bugs while browsing the system myself.

When I first tried to create an account to browse options in the federally run exchanges, I was asked to pick security questions and provide answers. For several hours, the drop-down menus that were supposed to display options for the security questions were blank. When they eventually showed up, I selected three different questions, put in three different answers, submitted my choices—and was kicked back to the beginning of the sign up process because the system thought that two of my security answer questions were identical.

When I indicated to the system at HealthCare.gov that I wanted to see insurance options for Idaho, it sent me to Idaho's state-run insurance exchange at YourHealthIdaho.org to sign up. From there, I clicked on a link that was supposed to allow individuals and families to "browse health plans now." That link sent me directly back to the homepage at HealthCare.gov.

Other delays have occurred in the exchanges in Missouri, Minnesota, and Maryland. Even in Connecticut, which reported its first successful enrollment at 9:30 a.m. this morning, local news reports noted that the state's exchange website was sluggish and sometimes inaccessible throughout the morning.

This was a far cry from the experience that President Obama advertised as recently as last week. Although he admitted that bumps and glitches were inevitable, he also said that the process of buying insurance on an online exchange would be "real simple."  The exchange, he explained, is "a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans, side-by-side, the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak—same way you shop for a TV on Amazon" he said last Thursday. "You just go on and you start looking, and here are all the options."

Needless to say, the experience that lots of people had with the exchanges today did not live up to that description.

In a speech on the White House lawn this afternoon, President Obama excused the technical hiccups as a sign of greater than expected interest. "Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the way that we will fix," he said. "I've been saying this from the start. For example, we found out that there have been times this morning where the site's been running more slowly than it normally will. The reason is because more than one million people visited HealthCare.gov before 7:00 in the morning."

Supporters of the law have followed the president's lead, suggesting that the poor response reveals pent-up demand for health insurance, and that whatever bugs there are in the system can be smoothed out over time. After all, coverage doesn't begin until January 1. That leaves plenty of time to iron out the opening day kinks.

To some extent, they're right. Opening day headaches won't doom the law if they are fixed fully and soon. If it's simply a matter of handling unexpected volume, then that ought to be easy enough to address. And, at least in theory, the system should become more responsive over the next few days as interest dies down.

But today's glitches also prove that, in a very basic sense, critics of the law were right to say that it is not ready for primetime. Maybe it will be in a day, or a week, or a month. But it's not now.

And it's far from guaranteed that the system will be glitch-free, or close enough, in the next few weeks. Most of the problems we've seen so far today are basic interface issues: sign-up systems timing out, pages appearing with visible code, links taking people to the wrong place. 

Meanwhile, big tests remain.


What we don't know yet, and what we may not know for a while, is how well the core functionality of the exchanges will work—the data hub and premium calculators that mix and match sensitive personal data with information from multiple government databases in order to provide users with details about plans, pricing, and subsidy eligibility.

That complex functionality is the hardest element to get right. Several states delayed major elements of their exchanges prior to October 1 because they couldn't get that functionality to work correctly. Reports from less than two weeks before launch indicated that the federal exchanges were having similar problems.

And as health insurance industry analyst Robert Laszewski noted over the weekend, some operational problems may not be obvious for months:

[The beginning of 2014] is when the insurance companies will have to deal with an arcane thing called "adds and deletes." That is when thousands of people's administrative status will have to be changed every month for any number of reasons out of perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of Obamacare names the insurance company has in their records. If there is a potential for a nasty breakdown in the connections between the exchanges and the insurance companies, it is here. 

Today's exchange problems don't make Obamacare a total failure—not yet anyway. But they don't exactly inspire great confidence in the system or its architects. And if today's problems continue for long, or if deeper issues with the core functionality of some of the exchanges are revealed, then that really will be a problem. No matter what, today's rocky launch isn't a good sign.

NEXT: Stocks Posting Big Gains on First Day of Government Shutdown

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  1. How about the government just give the whole business to Amazon?

    1. Or better yet, the National Park Service.

      1. I’m signing up for Amazon Park Prime.

        1. I’m signing up for Amazing Pork Prime!

          1. I sign up for Medicare December 27.
            No Obamacare for me. Bwahahaha!

        2. That sounds like a sweet M class planet.

          1. We’ll beam down with a redshirt. Ensign Fist.

            1. He’s an up and coming looking to prove himself!

              1. His dad helped me cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test. I’m going to have a sad face for at least half a scene when if he dies on this mission.

            2. Once you named him, he’s much safer. It’s the un-named red shirt that’s almost certainly not making it back to the ship.

    2. How about the government just give the whole business to Amazon?

      What’s esurance? Chopped liver?

      1. Yes, I have long hated them, especially the bills I get. Never any payments, just bills…

    3. I just want to add my story. I get paid over $87 per hour working online with Google! I work two shifts 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening. And whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids. Its by-far the best job I’ve had. I follow this great link http://cuttr.it/ukvczrq

  2. Hmm, is it too soon to jump on the “It-don’t-work-and-I-told-you-so!” bandwagon? I suspect that the glitches, like most tech, will get worked out. it does seem petty to focus on it after half a day. Make no mistake, the whole thing is going to fail, but it’s not going to come from tech fail

    1. One day hardly matters. As long as the Exchanges are working at 99% by January 1st, it’s not going to matter much.

      If there are still major issues at that point, then the PR damage will start being critical. Or if they get hacked and a lot of personal data gets stolen.

  3. I really don’t get it, suder-man. Why do you continue to harp on this? Everything you say is undoubtedly true. Yet all of this is due to aggressive dates set by Congress without basis in reality. None of this indicates that Obamacare is itself a failure, or even a less optimal solution.

    Your entire post could be applicable to large scale IT projects anywhere in any industry. All are eventually achievable. And all will function poorly during the initial rollout when the timelines were overly aggressive.

    1. Yeah, it looks silly to bring these up.

    2. Poe’s law means I have no idea how to respond to you. I mean, did you read the article?

    3. “Your entire post could be applicable to large scale IT projects anywhere in any industry. All are eventually achievable”

      Um, no actually they aren’t. The IT world is littered with failed large scale projects which for whatever reason reached a point in their project plans where scrapping the entire effort and starting over from scratch would be both quicker and cheaper and given the compressed timelines and poor requirements definition it would be a surprise if the Obamacare Exchanges were not eventually added to that group

  4. SadBeard will be here all weeks, folks. Be sure to tip your waitress.

    Matt Yglesias ? @mattyglesias It’s just like conservatives always warned ? ObamaCare is too popular and it’s overloading the servers.12:41 PM – 1 Oct 2013

    1. He’s getting much worse. He’ll be as bad as Sully or Joan Walsh in the next few years.

    2. As a Government IT guy, I can tell you it’s more likely to be faulty design choking the site on a mere handful of requests than sheer overwhelming demand.

  5. No, it isn’t going to doom Obamacare, but because these exchanges are but one small part of Obamacare.

    The employer mandates aren’t going away (delayed, but still around and factoring into corporate planning). Forcing plans to cover X and Y is still around, as is the upcoming penalties on the so-called ‘Cadillac plans’. There are still the bans on excluding those with prior conditions and imposing community rating on insurance plans.

    Even if the exchanges never work, those needing insurance will still be able to buy it, but by going direct to the carrier rather than using some fancy interface.

    1. Haven’t they always been able to buy insurance?
      I pay 490 every two months for me and my 8 year old (2000 deductible). I looked at the same provider’s new options and the prices for a comparable plan fitting the new requirements was 425-499. I thought this ain’t so bad. . . until it dawned on me that this was the MONTHLY premium not the two-month premium.
      What they offer (and things could change a lot) is twice what I was able to buy insurance for at any time in the last 10 years.
      They say “now people can buy health coverage”. Really they couldn’t before? And if it’s more expensive, just what is the point?

      1. Apparently they think people are really really dumb, and need a government website to go to.

        Or they are referring to the tiny segment who can now buy health insurance because it’s required to “insure” their preexisting condition.

  6. What did bureaucracy do before it had the internet to fuck things up for it?

    1. However bad it is now, it would have been 1000 times worse with card catalogs.

    2. Massive reams of paper, long lines, general awfulness.

  7. I did enjoy trolling my College Democrat friend with that Hit & Run post about the MSNBC reporter being unable to demonstrate how the website works.

    She posted on Facebook a graphic that said “October 1st 2013: Democrats Expand Access to Healthcare for Millions; Republicans Shutdown Government”

    1. “Democrats Expand Access to Healthcare for Millions”

      Actually its more like millions get handouts to buy tightly controlled sub-par insurance plans. That’s not the same as actual healthcare.

      I will be absolutey shocked if 4 or 5 years from now any aggregate imporvment in any healthcare metric is actually detected.

      1. I’ll be absolutely shocked if it’s not much more expensive and shittier.

      2. That depends on who is doing the measuring.

        1. Yes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

  8. the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak?same way you shop for a TV on Amazon

    You mean used to shop, right? Because with the shutdown, those sites must be closed. Because there is no way the private market could create a compare-and-shop system. Right?

    1. This is one of the agrivating things when this is talked about in the media. They act like the actual shopping platform is some kind of great innovation, as if those don’t already exist in the market.

      The purpose of the exchange is not to shop for health insurance (that already exists). The point is to be a real-time subsidy hand out machine.

      1. Never underestimate the power of elected officials to find awful solutions.

        1. What was their rational for the subsidy being applied at point of purchase like this, rather than a tax rebate thing?

          1. Probably because tax rebates are deferred, and the entire point of the exchange program is inducing the healthy young to sign up and take the strain off insurers hobbled by the actual meat of the bills: the community rating, the 3:1 rule, etc.

  9. Very tangentially related: Can we please stop using the term “Cadillac” for high-end products? Cadillacs are just another brand of UAW shitboxes. Is there anyone under 40 who thinks otherwise?

    1. Super Bowl MVPs?

      1. Super Bowl MVPs

        No, that’s Pontiac (Poor ‘ol nigger thinks it’s a Cadillac).

        *ducks and runs*

        1. My wife and I always point and laugh at Pontiacs. I mean, they take a shitty Chevy, paint it lipstick red or safety yellow, slap plastic moulding all over it, and boom! it’s a Pontiac. They suck. Also, Mitsubishi is the Pontiac of Asian imports.

          1. I love my Subaru.

          2. They don’t take anything anymore, since Pontiac no longer exists.

            The make became a joke, but as the (former, sadly) owner of a 1968 Grand Prix I’ll not brook this attack on Pontiac!

    2. Actually the shitbox connotation kind of fits.

    3. Just the guys who’ve driven a CTS-V. Or an ATS. Or just a normal CTS, now that I think of it.

      1. This, right here. The CTS-V is absolute beast mode, one of the greatest cars in the world.

    4. I think it’s perfect. “Cadillac” stands for overpriced gas-guzzling behemoth, generally driven only by pimps and old people.

      1. Are you implying that pimps don’t retire? Think about it–that old guy driving in front of you could be a retired pimp, living on residuals from his whores.

        1. I’ve always wanted to live on whore residuals. Sign me up for your mutual fund.

          1. I’m surprised that whores and organizations that own whore licensing rights don’t go public. You know, like David Bowie did. Then people could own and trade whore stock.

  10. Is this question seriously being asked? The people in charge don’t care if it works or not. They are exempt anyway. But the rest of us are going to be subjected to it, whether we like it or not, and whether it works or not.

    Fuck you, that’s why.

  11. In one chart, here’s why the exchanges will probably never work as planned.

    Look at the green areas in the upper left. In theory (though this aspect is one of the “delayed” features), the Federal hub is supposed to communicate with computer systems at the IRS, Treasury, Social Security, Homeland Security, and HHS. Over on the right, it’s supposed to communicate with state Medicaid systems.

    That means the hub is supposed to communicate with 55 pre-existing computer systems, not even counting the ones in the lower half of the chart. In a secure way. While obeying HIPAA laws. For millions of users. In something close to real time.

    Far, far simpler government IT projects have failed miserably, even ones internal to single departments (e.g. the FBI’s Virtual Case File system). Connecting different systems this way is very, very hard. It may never happen.

    1. “though this aspect is one of the “delayed” features”

      I’ll bet you can type those exact words a year from now.

    2. Didn’t they already ditch all the income verification stuff? It’s going to be a fraud bonanza.

      1. They’re going to go by the honor system, and then next year when they synch up with the IRS they’ll figure out who lied.

      2. Speaking of fraud, they’ve also ditched criminal background checks for the “navigators.”

  12. Look, this is as predictable as the sunrise.
    We all have various software programs, all of which are advertised as ‘intuitive’, and I’m sure they were to the developers. And those folks are relying on persuasion to get money from me.
    Now we have the government, with the standard ‘screw-you’ attitude and we’re to believe that the government program is gonna be better than what we buy (and swear at)?
    Good deals on bridges and swampland.

  13. my co-worker’s step-mother makes $63 every hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her pay check was $13317 just working on the laptop for a few hours. visit


  14. Also, another model of unknown racial provenance. They should have all just gone with Rashida Jones and been done with it.

    Mmmm. Rashida Jones.

    1. I endorse this.

  15. Since when do government programs get shut down because they are complete clusterfucks?

  16. Most of the problems we’ve seen so far today are basic interface issues: sign-up systems timing out, pages appearing with visible code, links taking people to the wrong place.

    I can only wonder how long it will be before we start hearing reports of successful man-in-the-middle attacks.

    1. And yet, this is the easy part. If they can’t even get the front end working correctly, what chance do they have on getting the really complicated stuff right?

      1. Looks like a lot of unemployed freeloaders will only have 89 more days to sign up to avoid their $95 “tax”.

      2. I was going to say essentially the same thing:
        Can’t get a fucking website database set up without it being a clusterfuck on Day 1, but trust us, we’ll be able to handle MASSIVE fluctuations and purchases in the healthcare market with zero fraud.

        All I see today are retards parroting how great it is to have a worthless, crashing govt website and cheerleading dolts like Krugman who bemoan the TeaThuglicans daring to shutdown the wonderful rainbow factory that we all know as the wasteful, bloated bureaucracy of the Federal Govt.

        Do we know if the EPA SWAT team has been furloughed because of all the draconian shutdown budget cuts?

        1. All they have to do on the back end is access some tables for pricing.

          There should be no inventory check, no credit check, no shipping info or bill of lading, and none of the other things that make discrete product sales difficult.

          Once a policy is chosen the insurer’s policy management system kicks in.

          The toughest part will be the subsidy calculation (if any).

          That said, if anyone can fuck this up we all know the government is most likely.

          1. Yeah it sounds easy but it never is and it you knew software and in particular databases with web access there was no way in the time allocated to make it work right. This was very predictable.

            1. C’mon, man. Don’t harsh PBs mellow. Everybody knows that all you do is access some tables on the back end for pricing. Like on the mainframe or something. Didn’t they teach you this in Internet school?

              1. a’;DROP TABLE obamacare; CREATE TABLE liberty; INSERT INTO liberty *

                1. *Access Denied*

  17. The proglodytes have already changed the narrative.

    It’s no longer, ‘the servers are crashing because zillions are trying to sign up all at once!’

    Now it’s ‘some teabagging hackers are hacking the servers to keep everyone from finding out how great the ACA is!’

    Seriously, you can’t make up the stupid things that they will say, you just have to sit and watch the hilarity happen.

    1. I actually think it would be pretty awesome if Republican hackers were launching DOS attacks.
      Civil disobedience bitches!

  18. Do Opening Day Exchange Glitches Spell Doom for Obamacare?

    Uhm, when has the failure or glitches to any government program ever spelled its doom? It usually spells the need for increased funding

  19. The EPA is shut down? Oh noes, don’t drink the water!

    1. Fuck, really? I’ve been breathing all day, too.

      1. Don’t look outside. It’s horrible. I did and the air was full of black smoke and birds were falling out of the sky. The only other thing that I could see through the smoke was my neighbors ripping the pollution control devices out of their cars.

        1. Jesus. I think I have black lung.

          1. I noticed that the leaves on many of the trees here in NH have started to turn red. This has to be the result of the shutdown.

            1. Jeez, that was quick. Who knew the federal government was standing between us and some sort of horrific science fiction death? Guess I should learn to love the state now.

  20. I am sure that the powers to be see the Glitches more like features.

    It will be one more step to the Progressive’s true wet dream of the single payer system.

    1. Congratulations, you have SF’d a link!

  21. I’ve played a variety of MMORPGs (massive multi-player on-line role-playing games. When a new one comes out, it almost invariably has “issues” with bugs, insufficient server capacity and what-not. Usually these issues get solved within a week or two.

    I’m no fan of Obamacare, but technical glitches on day 1 don’t mean the system won’t work. I fully expect the on-line bits to be fully operational before the end of October. If/when the system fails it won’t be because of IT issues, it’ll be because it ignores economic reality.

    1. MMORPG servers aren’t staffed by government employees either.

    2. You expect the federal government to be as competent as game manufacturers? baaaahahahahaha

      1. No, it seems about right. Just look at SimCity 5.

        1. Or worse, look at Master of Orion 3.

    3. Trying to recall the last MMO game I’ve been forced to play by federal mandate. Give me a minute, it’ll come to me.

    4. Brambly, I’m sure your experience as a player means a lot to you.

      Some of us, however, have experience with Government IT. An MMO Irons out capacity bugs by throwing talent and hardware at the problem until it goes away. Government IT has no ability to pay overtime (We’re salaried and expected to work extra hours for free) so the motivation to fix anything outside of normal work hours is limited, and the procurement process for hardware takes months. This will not be fixed soon.

  22. any journalism on what the premiums are? healthcare.gov requires you to fully apply get any information.

    1. I did an online calculator for a single 21-year-old nonsmoker making 40K, and it came in at 2300+ per year for the Silver, which does not include out-of-pocket expenses, which are capped at $6300. Wow that sucks a bunch.

      1. Economy killer or killer economy?

      2. wow, I’m a 33 yr old non-smoker with a household income of $150k….at first glance you would think that their ‘market’ mechanism isn’t based on anything other than what they think they can make you pay….

        1. That sounds about right.

    2. I did a pretend application on CA’s site and picked San Fran (since I live around DC, similar COL) and my premiums were $480 on the low end, $720 on the high end. The copays fluctuated from $10-50 depending, and then there were the deductibles which avg’d about $10k

      Overall I pay less now.

      1. Is that for a “bronze” plan for a family?

  23. It’s wierd how all the people in the ObamaCare ads look young and healthy.

    Shouldn’t they be marketing this shit to decrepit sick people in wheelchairs on breathing machines?
    Aren’t they the ones who will be mostly benefitting?

    1. Those are the people who will sign up on their own, because it actually benefits them. You don’t need to market it to them. You need to market it to the suckers young healthy people who will fund the system.

      1. Once they realize how cool Obamacare is, they’ll fork over in a heartbeat.

    2. Shouldn’t they be marketing this shit to decrepit sick people in wheelchairs on breathing machines?

      Don’t be silly, Hazel.

      *Those* people don’t use computers!

    3. Yes, the primary beneficiary of Obamacare will be a 50ish, beer-bellied, tobacco user most likely from the South/Texas who has pre-existing conditions. IOW, a GOP supporter.

      1. Obama is just that caring.

    4. That’s not how it works.

      They need healthy young people to sign up to subsidize the costs for the people who need a lot of services.

  24. The fact that Obummercare is going online probably says more about Republican stupidity than anything else. Here was a law shoved through on partisan lines, in the most disgusting way imaginable, with about 50% of the populace against it, and yet, here it is. We are stuck with it, and it is not going away.

    1. As I keep saying – it will be a big nothing. ZIP.

      The precedent I use is the exchanges set up several years for the uninsurable where only about 5-10% of those eligible actually signed up.

      1. In other words, the “problem” of 45M uninsured that led to this law was pretty much made up?

        1. They do seem to have been forgotten, haven’t they?

          1. No doubt they will be forever forgotten. Admitting that any still exist is an admission that Obama’s master achievement failed.

  25. Technical glitches found on the 1st day of the rollout of a brand new nationwide program? Wow. That’s never happened before to anybody else. Ever. Seriously, I have problems and frustrations that make me want to pull out my hair out nearly every time I log onto Citibank online banking (oddly enough, my substantially smaller credit union’s online banking system is nearly flawless and a breeze to use; there’s a lesson here somewhere).

    1. Don’t unnecessarily lump everything into one giant system like the government? Yep, sounds right.

    2. You could say the first Wright Flyer had some “technical glitches,” because its basic principles were sound. On the other hand, Obamacare, or a perpetual motion machine, does not have mere “technical glitches.”

  26. It’s not a matter of opening day ‘glitches’. It’s the whole premise of Obamacare that needs to be reconsidered. In the long run, we’ll either have yet another entitlement destined to finally bankrupt the nation (as if what we already has wasn’t up to the task) or something that’s actually semi-workable and eventually lives up the the overblown hype. My bet is on the former.

  27. Today doesn’t spell failure but it does spell big government sucks. The failure will come next November when people are fed up with Oblunder Care and the higher fees and taxes along with it and throw out the Democrat majority in the Senate.

    1. You’re dreaming my friend. I hate to say it but it’s true. The next few years might diminish the dems influence but I think it’s much more likely that they will continue to teeter on a balance or maintain some level of control.

      It will likely stay this way were only the big gov parties have control until a solid 3rd party can get it’s shit together, put down the weed signs long enough to get organized and on more state ballots and most importantly they have to offer an aspirational, inspiring and charismatic candidate if they’re going to overcome the spin machines out to denounce them.

  28. So less than 1/3 of 1% of the population of the country this law applies to is more interest than they expected? Seems like a fair statement.

    I’m sure they’ll get it fixed and have everything working efficiently and under budget. I mean the government has a good history of doing that right?

    And people checking before 7 am were probably doing so before work. I’ve never known anyone without a job to get up that early to check a government website.

  29. You can use DDoS tactics to stress test your servers, I can’t imagine the US government lacks the capability. So why, if they think there is such a huge demand, would the huge demand catch them by surprise and cripple their servers? Did they not test them at all?!?

    1. No they did not test. Testing takes time, and they barely finished coding it five minutes before flipping the switch.

  30. Only seriously interested people will be warmly welcomed,Thanks,,you have to work using a computer and internet.if you can do that and dedicate some time each day then you can do this with no problem. I have been working with this for a month and have made over $17,000 already. let me know if you need more here you go —— http://WWW.WORKS23.COM

  31. my friend’s sister makes =$?8?0= an hour on the laptop. She has been fired from work for seven months but last month her pay check was =$?1?2?7?4?1= just working on the laptop for a few hours. here are the findings…


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