(Bloomberg) -- The frantic weeks before the start of Obamacare were marked by a chaotic effort in which officials failed to complete exhaustive testing of the program’s website in a push to begin signups by Oct. 1, according to people involved in the rollout.
The federal Healthcare.gov site -- which has been plagued by software bugs -- went live without attempts to replicate a customer’s complete experience, said a person familiar with the project who asked not to be identified to discuss what happened.
The introduction was so rushed that, as recently as last week, the exchange’s computer code contained placeholder language that programmers typically use in preliminary drafts, says Clay Johnson, a former White House presidential innovation fellow during 2012-2013.
“It was a perfect storm for an IT meltdown,” says John Gorman, a former assistant to the director of the Health Care Financing Administration’s Office of Managed Care, the predecessor to the agency responsible, now known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS.
The website flaws have made it harder for people to enroll, marring its debut and giving critics ammunition to undercut the law called Obamacare by detractors and supporters alike. The failures may discourage the young, healthy, web-savvy consumers whose participation is critical to offset the risk of insuring older, sicker people and to keep the program sustainable.
“If they can’t get it fixed for most people by mid-November, they start raising questions about who’s going to enroll and concerns about adverse enrollment,” says Gail Wilensky, a former administrator of HCFA and now a senior fellow at Project Hope at Center for Health Affairs.
The system’s start was hobbled by software errors and overwhelmed by higher-than-anticipated consumer demand. About 8.6 million people visited the federal online health exchange in the first week, running long waits that kept many from registering to check out insurance options. At one point, the site posted error messages in at least 24 states.
President Barack Obama yesterday for the first time said he was upset with the online exchange’s performance so far.
“There’s no sugarcoating it: the website has been too slow,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. “Nobody’s madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed.”
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