If you look up “debacle” in an online dictionary, last year’s launch of Healthcare.gov should arguably be listed as an illustrative example. The disastrous rollout almost scuttled the Affordable Care Act through its difficulties in allowing people to access the site and sign up.
The Obama administration has learned from these mistakes, and, to their credit, corrected the website in sufficient time to meet their goals. They did so through bringing in outside programming talent and new leadership.
With some breathing room to revamp the system over the spring and summer months, this infusion of talent has had time to change healthcare.gov structurally instead of merely patching holes. The new team has made extensive use of A/B testing (exposing changes to a small amount of users and comparing the improvements) instead of dumping all the changes out at one time and missing potential failing interactions.
As a result, we can expect the revised Healthcare.gov to be significantly improved. Here are a few of the reported improvements.
- Reliability – The government has been dragged kicking and screaming into cloud services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host critical components of the Healthcare.gov structure. Government officials had been leery of this approach because of security concerns, but they did go through the elaborate process of qualifying AWS via security audits and were satisfied with the results.
AWS’s automated process for rerouting server loads to match demand is a vast improvement over the cumbersome routing protocol for securing extra government server capacity. For consumers, that should mean much fewer slow-downs and time outs during the process. If it happens this time, the problem is more likely to be with your Internet service provider.
- Creating An Account – The original log-in and account creation structure was written more with an eye on security than with user-friendliness and, even at that, common sense was absent from some of the protocol. For example, if you chose a username that already existed, you did not find out immediately. After several more pages, you were notified of the duplication and forced to start over.
The signup is now set up for a distinct e-mail address as the user name and the signup is limited to one easy-to-navigate page. Similar common sense approaches will limit frustration and keep the focus on plan comparison.
- Determining Eligibility – The interface for determining user eligibility is being streamlined whenever possible. Instead of forcing everyone through the same set of menus and instructions, simpler situations are being directed through a more efficient path.
Initial estimates have 35-40% of applicants still requiring the old interface protocol, but the team expects to make incremental changes toward improved efficiency and user-friendliness even in the most complex cases.
- Comparing Plans – A window-shopping tool will allow people to compare plans without putting in their personal information, another fundamental real-life shopping aspect that eluded the original designers. New screens will make it easier for people to navigate the comparison steps.
Aside from an ambitious timeline, the team faces other challenges that do not affect our experience as consumers.
- Back-End issues – The so-called back-end of the website that links information to and from the insurance companies is still in question, and may not be fully operational by the signup period.
- Security – While the cloud based system has been verified, hackers will be looking at the cloud implementation as a valuable nut to crack.
So far, the improvements look promising, especially with respect to window-shopping and improved reliability. Then again, how could it possibly be worse?