Experts Say Obamacare Exchange Technology Completely Outdated, May Need Total Restructuring

October 17, 2013

The federal Obamacare exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and an eventual overhaul of the entire system, USA Today reports.

"The application is fundamentally flawed. They're probably using 1990s technology in 7.0 world," said Jeff Kim, president of CDNetworks, a content-delivery network:

Recent changes have made the exchanges easier to use, but they still require clearing the computer's cache several times, stopping a pop-up blocker, talking to people via Web chat who suggest waiting until the server is not busy, opening links in new windows and clicking on every available possibility on a page in the hopes of not receiving an error message. With those changes, it took one hour to navigate the enrollment process Wednesday.

Those steps shouldn't be necessary, experts said.

"I have never seen a website — in the last five years — require you to delete the cache in an effort to resolve errors," said Dan Schuyler, a director at Leavitt Partners, a health care group by former Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt. "This is a very early Web 1.0 type of fix."

Even if the site were perfect, if the systems from which it draws data are not up to speed, it doesn't matter, said John Engates, chief technology officer at Rackspace, a cloud computer service provider:

"It is a core problem in the sense of it's fundamental to this thing actually working, but it's not necessarily a problem that the people who wrote can get to," Engates said. "Even if they had a perfect system, it still won't work."

Outsiders acknowledged they can't see the whole system, but they said they feared HHS built a system that will need an expensive overhaul that would cause more headaches for people trying to buy insurance.

HHS officials did not respond to a request about the nature of the problems. However, they reiterated that wait times have been reduced or even eliminated as they continue to work to fix the system. They have added capacity so more people may use the site at the same time, and they moved one component from virtual space to actual hardware to reduce bugs. As of Wednesday, they did not have an update on numbers.

"I will be the first to tell you that the website launch was rockier than we wanted it to be,'' HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, adding that people have until Dec. 15 to enroll to ensure coverage beginning Jan. 1.

Engates said HHS has been opaque about the problems, and the tech industry doesn't know the extent of the issues. "There's no secrets leaking out," he said. "I'm sure everyone's looking for something to change the direction of the conversation, but it's just not there."

"I think it's a data problem," Kim said. "It always comes down to that."

And if that's the case, the problems are beyond "rocky," he said. Instead, it would require a "fundamental re-architecture." In the meantime, "I think they're just trying to shore up as quickly as possible. They don't have time to start from scratch."

President Obama has acknowledged the rollout has been problematic, but it doesn't come close to the panning it has received from mainstream media. Even former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs ripped the launch as "excruciatingly embarrassing" in an MSNBC appearance.

The administration has also consistently dodged questions about the number of enrollees in Obamacare, with sources telling NBC News the numbers could be "embarrassingly low."