Jay Leno, in his monologue last night, commented on the speculation surrounding Mr. Barack Obama’s career after the end of his Presidency in 2016. “One thing we can safely rule out? Website designer.”

By now you may have heard: the official Obamacare website, https://www.healthcare.gov/, went live on October 1st and, well, it hasn’t been a resounding success.

In one of life’s more puzzling mysteries, millions were actually surprised by this, given the government’s century-long history of not majoring on effectiveness, efficiency and timeliness.

The Site

The New York Times, an ardent supporter of the concept and the legislation, tried to put a positive spin on the issue, but was forced to admit “While the site took three years to build, it took only a few minutes for it to break down when it went live at 8 a.m. E.D.T.”

To some extent, one could have expected the initial deluge, both from those anxious to obtain affordable healthcare and skeptics looking for ammunition for their criticism, would have caused the system to react slowly. It happens to any website. In a few weeks, though, the initial storm dissipates and the volume settles down to a steady level for which the system was designed. And that’s not a totally unreasonable view to take. It appears, unfortunately, not to be the correct one.

There appear to be systematic flaws in the $400-600 million system. Those who have visited it all agree that it has a pretty face. The graphics are well designed and the site is easy to navigate. But it’s hard to find any positive consensus beyond that. Despite the enormous amount of resources, the building of the website has been fraught with problems from the beginning. To quote another NY Times article, “Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site…”

The Speech

In the run-up to the launch of the website, the administration elected to hold the Obamacare website out as “the proof of the pudding” of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA). Its failure, therefore, is a major embarrassment for an increasingly embattled presidency. A few days ago, on October 21, Mr. Obama made a speech to address the cacophony of criticism, even from supporters of the legislation. The speech (full transcript here) was characterized by the Washington Post, arguably his strongest media supporter, as nothing but an infomercial spiel, because most of his time and words attempted an about-face, trying to separate Obamacare from the embattled website.

And one of the President’s strongest pitches was to use the phone if the website doesn’t work.

The Phone

With nobody present to contradict the Chief Executive’s encouragement to reach out and touch his program, one would be tempted to believe that is a good solution. One would, of course, be wrong: the level of training, and customer service attitude, of the operator force seem to be still at the level comedians have come to love as a constant source of laugh material.

The lack of operator training apparently is turning even straight-faced radio hosts into comedians. Sean Hannity, a talk radio host, called the hotline earlier this week, on the air. The ensuing conversation probably didn’t inspire the level of confidence in the system the Administration was hoping for.

The hapless operator who had the misfortune to take the call was fired the next day.

Fired? A Federal government employee? Uhhh, no. Said call center operator apparently was an employee of a private company, leaving one to speculate whether she was fired to deflect attention from whether the company did not provide the training the Federal government paid them for.

Mr. Hannity, upon hearing of the operator being fired, offered her a job for a year and help to find a new job, so she didn’t end up being the one paying the price for being the random operator who happened to pick up the fateful (if somewhat humorous) call.

Clearly, the government’s fallback option, the 800 number, isn’t functioning at a level that inspires confidence, either.

The Post

Astute observers might have noticed that up to this point the government employed old-school media where the audience can’t talk back. The closest the audience can get to feedback is grumbling around the dinner table and the odd letter written to staffers on Capitol Hill who simply add them up like a poll (after removing any campaign contribution checks, of course).

But, this is the twenty-first century and some well-meaning government employee(s) thought it might be a good idea to publish a blog post in an attempt to provide some good and helpful information about the Obamacare website. Well, a blog post contains a feature not found in traditional media: the Comments section.

As of the writing of this blog, the comments have filled 68 pages. That’s right, pages. Most are venting rants, and a few purport to still have support for the noble initiative. The two problems generating most complaints are simply logging in or creating an account, and the fact that after you apply, they have to verify you are who you say you are, which they do by using not a Government source like the Social Security Administration, the IRS or FBI. Not even the NSA. No, they are using a credit agency, Experian. Apparently, even though the NSA ejoys listening in to your phone calls, Uncle Sam fears they don’t really know who you are.

The Comments

Those two issues account for the majority of the comments, but there are a few other interesting ones, presented here for your weekend reading pleasure:

Submitted by rosemariejackowski on Sun, 2013-10-20 16:03
If only they had been nicer to Ed Snowden, he would fix this.

Submitted by Joanna on Tue, 2013-10-22 15:13
I am having difficulty with my account. It appears that my daughter was added twice so that I now have two daughters with the same name and social security number. I am unable to delete one of them. Also, the drop down menu that relates to what relationship someone is to another is faulty. I choose that my husband is the father of our daughter and that my daughter is a dependant to me and my husband. What it actually shows though is that my daughter is a stepdaughter to her father and that my daughter is now both my husband and I’s parent… It won’t allow me to change those options…

Submitted by Tim on Tue, 2013-10-22 20:12
I’ve tried setting up an account with 2 different e mail addresses, because each time I set up a username and password, then get the email to confirm, I try to log in and am told my information isn’t valid. I’ve no idea if I do indeed have an account, or if I’m waiting for you to fix the bugs. As a supporter of the ACA, you are testing my patience.

Submitted by Scott Hodgin on Sun, 2013-10-20 17:53
Don’t misrepresent the fact that there is “tremendous interest” in getting this healthcare. We are mandated/forced to have this insurance.

Submitted by Robert J on Sun, 2013-10-20 19:06
Put those idiots in the Senate, Congress, and the president into the same plan as we are trying to get into and I bet they would have it fixed in a week.

Submitted by ruth smith on Sun, 2013-10-20 18:55
Quit using Windows 7 and go back to your BlackBerries.

Submitted by Josey Wales on Sun, 2013-10-20 20:46
It’s time for techies to make a stand against the Federal Government. They have been the enablers that have allowed technologies from drones to illegal surveillance to be developed which daily kill and destroy people’s lives. It’s time to stand up against this outrage!

Submitted by Kathleen on Sun, 2013-10-20 21:36
Hi, I would really love the site to have some kind of message like please wait or system working…. I just get a blank screen when I log in and land on the profile page… I hope things get better because I really do need to buy health insurance. I’m not just a lurker or tv reporter.

Submitted by Barbara Lee on Sun, 2013-10-20 21:30
I wish people would be patience.You buy a brand new car and it has flaws just like anything else.Remember after the 2008 election and the Obama won the internet went haywire and it is the same thing!This will work!!!

Submitted by George on Sun, 2013-10-20 23:44
You need to do a lot more than better.

Submitted by TMLutas on Mon, 2013-10-21 00:27
Have you people never read The Mythical Man Month? It’s the hottest new thing on late software projects. It was originally published in 1975. In case you don’t have time here’s the key takeaway for you: Adding people to late software projects makes them later.

Submitted by John on Mon, 2013-10-21 08:09
“The best and brightest” is an unfortunate choice of words. It is the title of a famous book by David Halberstam about the very, very smart people who got us into Vietnam.

Submitted by Keven on Mon, 2013-10-21 09:14
The greatest problem for me, and I have a very long list, on this site is, has been and remains the simple fact that it is impossible to be verified. For whatever reason(s) you don’t send the data to that horrible company which is supposed to verify that I exist…

Submitted by dave on Mon, 2013-10-21 08:59
The same people who caused the problem are now going to fix it?

Submitted by Bruce on Mon, 2013-10-21 09:25
Curious why the Privacy Policy for this page of the U.S. government site states “We are bound by the strict rules of Belgian and European data protection legislation.” Are you not bound by any US data protection policies?

Submitted by Sledge on Mon, 2013-10-21 09:33
Just curious, why did you not bring in the best and brightest from the very beginning?

Submitted by Fred on Mon, 2013-10-21 10:02
Website said my wife and I were ineligible due to current incarceration. We have never been arrested in our lives, both 63!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Jed on Mon, 2013-10-21 10:31
For the past week, a new problem cropped up for me, dis-allowing me to create an account. I receive the message: “Your cannot be created at this time because your name (not user name…but real name), and e-mail address are…”NOT UNIQUE ENOUGH”. Huh???

Submitted by Mohammad on Mon, 2013-10-21 10:46
resetting passwords on the phone with a service technician? how unsecure is that? what were the verified e-mail address and security questions for?

Submitted by Kristin on Mon, 2013-10-21 15:32
PLEASE educate your customer service representatives on the details of your plans… Your representatives, while well-meaning, are clearly not equipped with the basic knowledge needed to provide answers to basic questions, nor do they have the tools necessary to lead the customer in the right direction to find answers. I am am a big advocate for the ACA and I am pulling for you guys big time. I just wish this could have been rolled out in a more concise, polished, professional manner.

Submitted by Mike on Mon, 2013-10-21 15:00
You should have told people you were going to use experian data base to verify identity. I am stioll waiting for verification and it’s been 2 weeks.

Submitted by Robert on Mon, 2013-10-21 19:44
I have tried and tried to create an account, being very careful to select three different responses to the security questions, waiting a few moments, then trying again after it fails. I keep getting the error “Important: Your account couldn’t be created at this time. Please note that two or more answers to the security questions cannot be the same. You must provide distinct answers to the chosen security questions. Please wait a few moments and try again.” Come on. PLEASE tell me the real reason I cannot create an account. E.g. “Important: We are too busy and don’t care about you, go away.

Submitted by Leenie on Mon, 2013-10-21 20:49
I won’t even go into the multiple issues trying to get signed up… Imagine the issues you will have once you start actually filing claims and expecting them to be paid.

Submitted by Marc on Mon, 2013-10-21 21:37
I’d like to know if any of the contracts had penalties for failing to deliver on time, From what I read it’s the opposite, failure to deliver resulted in rewards (doubling (or quadrupling of the original contract amounts).

Submitted by ML on Mon, 2013-10-21 21:36
I see NO improvement! Logging in is impossible. The last time I tried this site, I was told that my identity could not be proven. Why not? The IRS knows who I am, SSA knows who I am, and they don’t need so many questions to figure it out! They also don’t need to go to Experian.

Submitted by Angeline K. on Tue, 2013-10-22 03:14
I have been waiting since 10/06/13 to have my identity verified through the verification system. On the 6th I downloaded a copy of the Drivers License as instructed to do for verification. I am still waiting to hear if I am really who I say I am.

(These came after the Obama speech recommending using the phone if the website doesn’t work)
Submitted by Pamella on Tue, 2013-10-22 10:01
I have just called in to use the phone option that was supposed to make it easier. I attempted to get through after putting in the correct voice prompts. There was a loop that keep repeating! I did not get through even using the phone.

Submitted by Tim on Tue, 2013-10-22 21:53
I tried last week no luck. Not to worry, I called the 1 800# the pres said to call. Sure enough busy but then called back and then got a live person so I started asking questions and help enrolling. She didn’t know the answer and told me to go to the website. I aksed if she was kidding and she said no. I gave up arguing with her.

Submitted by HAMID on Wed, 2013-10-23 07:52
The media need to stop lying about this site, It is working just fine. (This after about 50 pages of comments from users unable to get the system to work.)

Submitted by Amanda on Mon, 2013-10-21 16:56
My husband is a sole-proprietor so we have purchased individual healthcare plans for about 10 yrs. That process is simple: enter data on your family on one single page: name, relationship, birthdate, smoke/non-smoker and enter to get multiple plan options. On Healthcare.gov, I have tried for 20 days, each day for at least an hour, to create an account and enter my family’s info. One day, I was lucky enough to get all this information entered without an error message (took 3 hours but I was patient) but at the end, I still couldn’t see plans because my identity could not be verified. I have lived at this address for about 15 yrs, my name has been the same, my ssn is the same…what is not verifiable? But I was patient and read the request for additional materials to verify my identity and scanned one of the documents requested – my driver’s license, on Oct. 8th. I was told to expect an email to tell me when the document has been reviewed and my identity confirmed. I have not received that email yet. I did “live-chat” with Cathy who told me to be patient and “I’m sure they are going to get to it soon!” but she can’t sign into my account or verify that the document has been received or how long it will take for someone to review it. I have spoken to the 800# and the live-chat people many times but still cannot get past this step – at one point I was told to call VeriSign who would verify my identity over the phone but then I didn’t have the reference number that VeriSign requires – and customer service could not tell me how to get that reference number!! In January, my HMO will no longer be offered so I am required to purchase through the marketplace. We don’t qualify for any rebates and we have a large (6 person) family. From what I can learn on the 3 insurance company websites that are serving my state (NJ) my premiums will be rising at least $300/mo. and that is for a bronze plan. We already pay $1300/mo for healthcare. I just feel like it’s a tax on tea right now.

Submitted by Scott on Mon, 2013-10-21 14:05
I have checked the “Affordable Heath Care” costs vs my current costs and my current plan is less expensive! The total cost of health cars is the monthly premium, the deductibles to be met, and the maximum out of pocket costs I will have to cover if I encounter an illness or hospital stay.

Submitted by Jerome Jochem on Mon, 2013-10-21 14:20
For many of us, getting stuck in bad programing errors is not just inconvenient, it is critical and can result in termination of treatment on Dec 31st if insurance can not be obtained. My wife is suffering from ovarian cancer. We were covered in a pre-existing insurance plan by the state of Tennessee, (acess TN) and was informed that coverage would end Dec 31st because we could get health insurance through the exchange. Since Oct 1st, I have tried every day to get coverage, have spent hours on the phone trying to find out how to get my application through in time so we have no gap in treatment, and still have no coverage. The website says that my application is finished but when I click on the check eligibility button nothing happens. There seems to be no priority given for applications from people undergoing life saving treatment, and there is no recognition that these exchange problems may result in the premature death of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who would have had coverage except for this incredibly incompetent website.

Submitted by Travis on Wed, 2013-10-23 14:54
A private sector company selected and managed by the government . . . and paid with taxpayer money. How is it somehow better that a private company was paid millions or hundreds of millions with taxpayer money to create a government mandated website that doesn’t work?

Submitted by Glenda CD on Thu, 2013-10-24 04:09
Says not available singing into Oklahoma.

Submitted by Elliean on Thu, 2013-10-24 13:47
I really is giving up now. Cannot even get to creat an account fir three weeks now. Bye bye


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