By Alan Lyndon
To say the launch of Healthcare.gov last October was a disaster is being overly generous. It was worse than that. It was so bad that, two weeks after the launch, President Obama had considered shutting it down completely and starting from scratch.
Time magazine’s Steven Brill just published a fascinating article about how the site so quickly went from one of the most bungled launches ever to a fully operational, successful website and how an unknown team of techies may have saved Obama’s presidency.
“No one in the White House meetings leading up to the launch had any idea whether the technology worked,” wrote Brill. That was a huge problem considering that a key tenet of the newly implemented Affordable Care Act at the time was that individuals must be insured by January 1, 2014 or pay a penalty.
The Obama administration was successful at getting the word out to the public that they need to start preparing for that deadline. However, just five days after the launch/crash of the site, “White House chief technology officer Todd Park would tell USA Today that the capacity was 50,000 and that the website had collapsed because 250,000 people tried to use it at the same time.” In fact, the site was only capable of hosting a few thousand users at most, according to Brill.
The launch of Healthcare.gov became front-page news and a huge blow to the Obama administration. Fewer headlines appear today about the rebound of the site, which now has enrolled over four million people. Steven Brill’s article describes how an elite team of technology professionals and engineers brought back the site from near death.
This is the story of a team of unknown—except in elite technology circles—coders and troubleshooters who dropped what they were doing in various enterprises across the country and came together in mid-October to save the website. In about a tenth of the time that a crew of usual-suspect, Washington contractors had spent over $300 million building a site that didn’t work, this ad hoc team rescued it and, arguably, Obama’s chance at a health-reform legacy.
Last year, Brill wrote “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” — the longest single piece ever published by Time — about why health care costs so much in the U.S.