With 2015 arriving, the Healthcare.gov site had originally been slated to switch hosts—but those plans have been delayed according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The purpose was better connectivity and reliability (the current web host is Verizon Communications) to help with conversions and welcoming new members, but it seems like this is a move that’s just not prepped yet.
Many lessons have been learned in the past year, as well as from other agencies and businesses, but apparently there’s still more to be taught. Hewlett-Packard is on deck to take over the hosting duties for Obamacare, promising fewer outages than Verizon, however users might be stuck with Verizon longer than they thought.
According to the federal government, the Verizon web hosts were at fault for a number of 2014 outages that ultimately impacted the federal hub that’s relied on by every state. It’s how user data is transferred, enrollment takes place, and it’s the system used to compare plans. Originally, the move to HP was scheduled for March 2015 (after the sign up period closed). However, back in July it was found that the then-upcoming season for enrollment (November 15, 2014-February 15, 2015) was just coming too soon.
The issue with web hosts
A federal contract was publicly released to defend staying with Verizon, and it was stated that Verizon was the default web host since there wasn’t enough time to test HP. This isn’t a unique reasoning or excuse of the federal government—in fact, it’s why many people stick with subpar web hosts. They don’t have the time, resources, know-how or facts to figure out which hosting platform is best for them.
However, critics are worried that Healthcare.gov won’t be able to improve the experience in 2015 that millions of people struggled with vehemently following the initial enrollment. There were issues galore, and switching hosts was supposed to be foundational in an improved experience. Last summer, The New York Times reports that experts were already warning users about potential issues that still weren’t worked out.
A better host in 2015?
It’s estimated that Healthcare.gov will have even more traffic this year crammed into a smaller window since the enrollment period has been shortened. The government has hired contractors to re-work the biggest kinks in the site, but time is running out. According to a former health official with the Obama Administration, Joel Ario, “It’s going to be improved, but given all the challenges it will be far from perfect.” A current spokesman for the site, Aaron Albright, notes that “The best path forward to ensure a successful second open enrollment period” is underway. “It was made to improve the consumer experience and have sufficient time for testing.”
Unsurprisingly, neither HP nor Verizon have made any official statements. However, there are some players in the federal government who have no qualms about pointing fingers. Kathleen Sebelius, prior Health and Human Services Secretary, says, “It is the Verizon server that failed, not HealthCare.gov.” That could certainly be true, considering the biggest complaints were about non-loading pages and slow responses—site speed and reliability could be an issue with site design, the user’s connection, the web host’s server and management, or a combination of all three.
Spreading the love
In preparation for the busy season, Albright has confirmed that peak traffic will be managed by moving 75 percent of new users to a part of the site that will be hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). For these first timers, they’ll take advantage of a better system for account creation—and this will also lessen the load on the site dedicated to returning users.
As for Verizon, the host is still in charge of serving five million users (or 25 percent of all traffic). HP has been charged with hosting a handful of the site’s components, and is also the backup. While the government has gone on record saying Verizon is “capable” of hosting the site even at peak times, it’s still scheduled to be upgraded for the 2015 enrollment period. However, sticking with Verizon is still a “short-term bridge” says the government.