Healthcare.gov’s New Woe: Datacenter Failure

Not something you want to see when signing up for government-mandated health insurance.

As if Healthcare.gov didn’t have enough problems already, one of its critical datacenters decided to fail Oct. 28. The outage has affected Healthcare.gov’s ability to verify identity and citizenship, delaying many customers’ ability to sign up for a healthcare plan via the online marketplace.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the datacenter—operated by Verizon Terremark—lost network connectivity in a way that impacted not only Healthcare.gov but also some of the online healthcare exchanges run by individual states. “Our engineers have been working with HHS [Health and Human Services] and other technology companies to identify and address the root cause of the issue,” a Verizon spokesman told Reuters.

Although Healthcare.gov has experienced numerous glitches since its Oct. 1 launch, the state healthcare exchanges had been operating relatively crisis-free until this point.

President Obama has spent the past week insisting that a flood of experts will soon repair Healthcare.gov’s underlying issues. “No excuse for the problems, and these problems are getting fixed,” he told reporters in an Oct. 21 speech. A mix of technology specialists from the public and private spheres are reportedly picking away at the system’s myriad bugs.

As Obama made his public appeal, a blog posting on the White House’s Website went into a little more depth about the fixes underway. “We have updated the site several times with new code that includes bug fixes that have greatly improved the HealthCare.gov experience,” it read. “The initial wave of interest stressed the account service, resulting in many consumers experiencing trouble signing up, while those that were able to sign up sometimes had problems logging in.”

It’s a bigger question whether a “surge” (as the government calls it) of tech assistance will really help Healthcare.gov patch itself in record time. There’s an argument to be made (based on the famous theory established by The Mythical Man-Month) that adding manpower to a project actually slows it down; also known as “Brooks’s Law,” it’s a principle that’s been embraced (with notable success) by Amazon and other tech companies. But when it comes to government initiatives, perception matters as much as implementation; if Obama can step before the podium and say that lots of help is on the way, it could dampen the very public flare-ups over Healthcare.gov’s implementation failures.

 

Image: Healthcare.gov