The launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, aka Obamacare) has gone pretty poorly. This has been due to website malfunctions and the resulting (and predictable) media frenzy.
Now I don’t want to discount the possibility (and even probability) of incompetence on the part of the healthcare.gov website designers, but is this really such a surprise? Are these failures really so rare? I think not.
The ACA website is probably the first in history to have such an intense debut. Of course, the designers knew that it would be intense all along but, unlike Facebook, Google, or Amazon, the first day the website was up, it was flooded with “hits“. Other major websites built up gradually as they got more popular.
But even so, are other websites really all that great? I think not. I’ve had problems with almost every website I’ve visited more than once. And some I had problems with the first time and that’s exactly why I didn’t go back! I’ve filled out forms, clicked “send” or “done” or whatever, only to have my work wiped out with no way to get it back.
On Hotels.com my wife and I were searching for a room, the site screwed up somehow, and we had to start over. For some reason, when we started over, the calendar on the site set itself a year forward, so we ended up booking a room for a year later than we wanted. To their credit, one of their reps stayed on the phone with us for a half an hour until it was fixed. But even THAT went wrong! I was on my cell phone with a rep, our call got “dropped”, and we had to call back and… start all over with another rep.
Anyone who has visited the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” website knows how bad it is. They’ve only recently figured out how to stream their videos without a bunch of fits and starts interrupting you. Great show. Crappy website.
Have you tried to search for a topic on Dr. Oz’s website? Good luck. Dr. Oz is great, his web designers? Aaaaah, not so much. And although things have eventually improved at Expedia.com, at least twice I’ve been at the airport and the numbers they gave us for out itinerary didn’t match the numbers that the airlines expected. The result? About a half-hour delay as one of the now rare ticket agents got my situation straightened out.
I’ve had hours and hours worth of frustrations on websites. Amazon once decided to ship something I ordered to an address that I moved out of ten years earlier. Believe it or not, fixing that took incredible effort. And just try to get something done like contacting Hewlett-Packard support through their website. Here’s a hint – where it says “contact HP” does not lead to the actual ability to contact anyone, just to search their FAQs for the same issue. I tried various methods for almost an hour and finally got ahold of a person… through the phone.
Unfortunately, Hewlett-Packard doesn’t stand out as a tech company with a bad website. Apple, Dell, Microsoft, almost anybody you can name has a clunky, ridiculously overblown website where it’s incredibly difficult to solve an actual problem. To a lesser degree, even Google’s basic search engine seems to go on vacation, once in a while.
Web sites have problems. They also almost universally have bad designs at their core. And most of these websites have had years to improve. How many times have I entered some serial number or something on a website and it comes back with an error: “You must enter a serial number”? How many times has a website crashed on me, just as I thought I was getting through all the steps to accomplish something?
The ACA website, healthcare.gov’s problems are not that big a surprise to me at all, not after trying to change my address on the California DMV website – another winner. The healthcare.gov problems simply make news because any failure associated with the ACA is automatically news. And the pundits are using their usual “I’m not saying this, I’m just asking” method to “ask” if this all means that the ACA is a failure. That’s sensationalism, and that’s today’s pathetic excuse for journalism. End of story.
I hope everybody will calm down, ride out the problems, and get themselves some high quality health coverage. I’m going to do just that. Website problems aside, next year I’ll finally be able to afford going to the doctor, if I need to.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.