On Sunday, the Obama administration announced it had gone a very long way to fixing the healthcare.gov website, and had achieved its goal of making the website work “for the vast majority of users.” It cited statistics that the site will not crash with 50,000 simultaneous users, and that it will allow those on it to go through its registration process 90 percent of the time, up from 40 percent in October.
If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, what the Obama administration said on Sunday was a lie.
The lead Times story today, co-authored by the health-care expert Robert Pear, says this: “The problem is that so-called back end systems, which are supposed to deliver consumer information to insurers, still have not been fixed.”
The story expands on this point in great detail, but the fact is simple: There is no such thing as a functioning website if the “back end” isn’t working. The “back end” is the catchall phrase for everything you don’t see when you visit a website. It refers to the software that translates pictures and words into what you see here. It refers to the software that mediates the relationship between 1) users who enter information, 2) the servers that store the website’s information, and 3) third parties hired to take some (but not all) of the information and process it on their servers and computers. It refers to the security systems put in place so that the website cannot be disabled by an outside attack and so that the data entered cannot be stolen or otherwise compromised.
In other words, the back end is the website. What many people are seeing now at healthcare.gov is a visual demonstration of a sign-in. If the sign-in data are not transferred to a database, nothing has happened. It’s like taking a practice test; it’s not scored and it’s not registered and it means nothing. Here’s what the story says:
Some insurers say they have been deluged with phone calls from people who believe they have signed up for a particular health plan, only to find that the company has no record of the enrollment. Others say information they received about new enrollees was inaccurate or incomplete, so they had to track down additional data — a laborious task that would not be feasible if data is missing for tens of thousands of consumers.
In still other cases, insurers said, they have not been told how much of a customer’s premium will be subsidized by the government, so they do not know how much to charge the policyholder.
What the Obama administration did yesterday was, in the language of pre-meltdown Wall Street, to put lipstick on a pig.