Is every day Halloween? That is what the team members of HealthCare.gov, the federal insurance Web site, might have asked last month as the site's October 1 debut enabling a historic health system
overhaul and insurance signup turned into weeks of haunting outages and outrage from dismayed and disgruntled former supporters.
The confidence of many affordable plan seekers who had championed Obamacare as a great idea was shaken. Those trying to sign up in the first week experienced outages and long waits and many gave up trying to register.
The government has responded with a firm commitment that when the going gets rough they can really get going. They are determined to get this right. Now more details are emerging about the “tech surge” for HealthCare.gov announced on October 22 that is designed to usher in the fixes.
The news is that a smart cadre of engineers and programmers from tech companies have jumped on board to help fix technical issues troubling HealthCare.gov. Google, Red Hat and Oracle are among those companies.
Two Names on Board
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, provided more details about the surge in a blog post on the HHS (Health and Human Services) Web site on Thursday:
“As part of the 'Tech Surge,' we’ve added key personnel from the government and private sector, including expert engineers and technology managers," she said. "These dozens of people are strengthening and reinforcing the team we have working 24/7 to address the problems around HealthCare.gov.”
She said those climbing on board are from leading technology companies such as Red Hat and Oracle and include individuals with expertise on site reliability, stability and scalability. She said two of those key personnel are Michael Dickerson and Greg Gershman.
Michael (Mikey) Dickerson, a site reliability engineer on leave from Google, is working on the stability of the Web site. “He has expertise in diving into any layer of the tech stack, from the metal to the application code to the people that write it,” she said, “in order to deliver some of the world's most reliable online services.”
Clear Path Forward
Greg Gershman is Director of Innovation for Washington D.C.-based Mobomo, a mobile app design and development company. “Greg is a developer and entrepreneur with experience running agile development teams and creating better user experiences when interacting with government,” said Bataille.
His company, which helps businesses and organizations build mobile applications, is no stranger to government work. The company built the official U.S. Navy apps for iOS, Android, and Chromebook. The apps help connect families with events and news about sailors at sea. The firm also tackled a system for NASA.gov and subdomains in 13 weeks, replacing an older proprietary system with a Drupal open-source content management system powered by Amazon Web Services.
In an earlier blog post, Bataille said, “We now have a clear path forward. The problems we have identified with the site fall into two broad categories: performance issues, such as the speed, response time and reliability issues that many consumers have been frustrated with; and functional problems, which are the bugs that prevent the software from working the way it’s supposed to.” Bataille describes the mission now as one of coming up with a “punchlist” of fixes and then “going to punch them out one by one.”
Dickerson is working with a UnitedHealth Group unit, Quality Software Services (QSSI). Bataille, who referred to QSSI as the general contractor, said that QSSI will be “leveraging [Dickerson's] experience stabilizing large, high throughput applications to improve HealthCare.gov's reliability and performance.”
Around the Clock
She said Gershman, meanwhile, is "focusing on optimizing the site to improve HealthCare.gov's performance, and helping the development process be more agile so HealthCare.gov can release improvements more rapidly.”
Beyond Dickerson and Gershman, the exact number of others involved in the list-and-punch rescue operation is not known. The number, however, is given as “dozens.” Bataille said, “Besides these two, there are dozens of software engineers, developers, designers and analysts, who are methodically working around the clock on performance and functionality of HealthCare.gov.”
At a shareholders' meeting Thursday Oracle chief Larry Ellison said as an information technology company the database giant was pitching in to help out in the effort to get the government health care site up and running.
The government's aim is for the Web site to work smoothly for most users by the end of this month.