After Only A Few Hours Since Opening, The Washington State Health Care Exchange Website Is Broken

By Darren Smith

TRS-80 Model 1What is it with government software? Voting machines are dysfunctional, Federal healthcare systems self-destruct under heavy load, billions wasted on Federal Retirement systems that no longer work. Now, Washington State presents us with another example: The Washington Health Care Exchange’s Washington Health Plan Finder.

The website began open enrollment and was shut down after a just a few hours when the system detected that tax credit calculations were incorrect. State software engineers and managers are working to correct the problem that somehow fell under the radar when the system was being developed. How such a basic component could be missed by their QA is remarkable.

Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka stated that the credits were off by “just” a few dollars in some cases.

Officials shut-down the system at 10:30 AM on opening day, November fifteenth. Onizuka stated the system would remain down until the exchange could provide accurate information. Spokeswoman Bethany Frey suggested consumers try again another day.

System Administrators for the exchange hoped there would be no repeat of the original open enrollment fiasco when the system buckled down due to heavy load and rejected applicants having a hyphen in their surname. The first open enrollment occurred on October 1st, 2013. Since then about one thousand applicants continue to have problems getting their premium payments credited and the money transferred to insurance companies.

The website’s system update page proffers to be back online the next day.

The exchange’s website, as of 5:10 Pacific time, displays a page indicating the system is down. The text reads:

Thanks for your patience

Washington Healthplanfinder is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please check back later.

More information is also available at

This page was last updated on 11/15/2014 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time

To top it off, note the above time as 10:30 AM. The Spanish translation on the page lists this time as 10:30 PM.


By Darren Smith


Washington Health Plan Finder

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

43 thoughts on “After Only A Few Hours Since Opening, The Washington State Health Care Exchange Website Is Broken”

  1. Squeeky:

    It frustrates me to no end that your article is being perfectly serious. We really did pay millions of dollars for a website that requires manual data entry and reconciliation.

    Ceterum censeo Obamacare delendo est.

    And furthermore, in my opinion, Obamacare should be destroyed.

  2. DBQ – plus, why is it OK for companies to bid for jobs that they can’t properly complete, with the excuse that these things are complicated?

    If it’s too complicated for them, they shouldn’t have accepted the contract and millions of dollars.

    When we sold a missile defense system to Saudi Arabia, it worked. Period. There was no, well, sure your country could be destroyed the first few times it’s utilized, because these things are complicated and it takes a while to get things right once it goes live. Same thing for Israel’s Iron Dome. Can you imagine if their defense system worked like one of these Exchanges? I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated, and yet, there is this inexplicable assumption that when you buy something, it should work.

  3. @KarenS

    Here is an article you are sure to enjoy! Turley’s blog is even mentioned in the comments:

    Anyhow, the stories read like coverage of holiday shopping (“shoppers” having replaced “consumers”). There are crowds, and sometimes balloons, or cookies. Venues are brightly lit. Some shoppers are intent, others confused. Some buy at once, others take the brochures home. There are greeters, floorwalkers, assistants. Random individuals are quoted by name! The “experience” is great, except when it isn’t. Occasionally, there are problems, mostly technical. “Computers!” There are very few numbers, no context, and no analysis (Bloomberg, Reuters, WaPo, New York Times, Contra Costa Times, and many others.) It’s as if the entire press corps took Obama’s riff that buying health insurance should be like buying a flat-screen TV, and reverse engineered their stories out of it.

    Never mind that ObamaCare shoppers are highly unlikely to know what they’re actually buying.

    So, if the WordPress back end were broken the way the ObamaCare backend is broken, you would press Submit — work with me here, I know WordPress doesn’t work ideally for everyone at all times — and rather than the bits and bytes of your comment being stored in a database, and then processed electronically and displayed as a web page, they would be appear in the backend by fax, and little elves would combine your comment’s fax with other bits of paper, typing and scissoring and gluing very rapidly, and then display that as the web page. Yes, that would be expensive, cumbersome, slow, error-prone, and basically, not the way work like this is done. And your point?

    Anyhow, when Obama called in a tech dude SWAT team to fix the website in November 2013, he had them fix — for reasons nobody has ever explained — the user-facing, visible front end, but not the database-facing, invisible back-end, with the result that lots of ObamaCare’s data handling is, mind-bogglingly, still done by little elves. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    “Everyone reports that there are still back-end issues,” says Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Care Solutions and a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner. “That means there will be some cleaning up to do in terms of reconciling accounts and making sure payments are correct and the coverage dates are correct.”

    That “cleaning up” is manual data entry. And not only are little elves working for the insurance companies, they are working for CMS, too:

    Insurance industry sources say the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had sorted through about 80 percent to 85 percent of existing accounts to make sure its records match those of insurers.

    “Sorted through” is another euphemism for manual data entry. Obama’s famously data-driven campaign apparatus seems to have been powered by computers, and not by little elves. Of course, campaigns are important, unlike signature domestic initiatives that involve significant financial decisions — not to mention life and death choices — for millions of Americans, out there shopping in the flyover states. What a shame they’re not visible from the Acela!

    There is more at the link above! Very much worth the read if you want to understand the nuts and bolts of the problems.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. @ Karen

    LOL at the engineer joke. My brother is a systems analyst and does coding and other things that I have no idea what it is he actually does. He is one of those engineer types. Not only is his extensive vinyl album collection alphabetized by artist, the albums are in chronological order. Thankfully, he has wife who can help him navigate the world since he is so adorably clueless. They met when he was working at Ames Research in charge of the system integrity (as I understand it) for one if the Mars projects.

    I’m a pretty analytical person myself, which is why I have no patience for incompetence at this level…..the ACA program designed by blind monkeys and associated failures of the exchanges. I know it isn’t simple to build this software, but come ON it isn’t rocket science either. It also isn’t as if there was a big surprise that these programs were needed. They had plenty of time to beta test the system and consider all the possible permutations of input that would be input by the public. Really???? They never considered that people have hyphenated names?

    Not just incompetence but graft, corruption, kickbacks.

  5. I agree with PhillyT. Human beings make things and break things. I will say this–America was ruled by the private sector until at least 1933 (some would say it still is). And if your skin was darker than white and/or your parents unpropertied, life in America was painful and bitter.

  6. DBQ – when I first heard the media explode about the shirt this scientist wore, I thought, “My God, what was on that shirt?” I was expecting something where I would have to bleach my brain after. But a 40’s Bombshell shirt?

    I’ve worked with a lot of scientists, and known many engineers. Many are socially awkward, especially around women. They were the nerds who got beat up in high school or weren’t popular. They have beautiful brains where all their energy is focused, rather than on social norms.

    I noticed that Dr Taylor wore sweats at the next interview. He still wasn’t wearing a GQ, sharply tailored suit. Why would he? He’s not an empty suit. I’ve had many friends like him – we’re lucky if they can drag themselves away from work long enough to shower and change clothes when they’re working on a massively important goal like this. I worked with one guy who slept on his desk for 3 days straight, and was cracking up by the time he finished his project. He alphabetized the catalog bookcase to take a break.

    Dr Taylor probably hasn’t come up for air in months, if not years, because he helped land a probe on a comet traveling at 45,000 mph. That’s an incredible accomplishment. Something he should be proud of until his dying day.

    But, you know what he’s going to remember? His humiliation, and tearful apology, in front of millions of viewers. The hyper scrutiny on his outfit.

    These scientists need handlers to make it through the media. We shouldn’t bully him because he wore some Bombshell shirt, probably trying to look cool.

    Here’s my favorite engineer joke:

    Two engineers called out to their friend, a fellow engineer, asking about his new bike. He said, “I was walking to work when this gorgeous blond rides up on a bike, disrobed, and said, ‘Take what you want.'” His friends nodded sagely and said, “Good choice. Her clothes would never have fit you.”

  7. Ha ha ha. American voters, meaning democrats, non-citizens, and dead/fake voters, are stupid.
    Not surprisingly, their website coders are just as stupid.

    Do they hire plumbers that connect their toilets to their kitchen sinks?
    Do their auto mechanics put gasoline in the windshield washer tank?
    Does their President talk about his twitter followers?

  8. Sorry, not me, ask Professor Turley to check IP addresses. It’s creepy to keep focusing on sockpuppets.

  9. Just for the record, I’ve worked in several hospitals while new software systems were implemented by for-profit companies. The crashes, loss of data, errors and other malfunctions were horrific. in one instance the new system lost all the pharmacy data for the intensive care unit for 24 hours! Were it not for the nurses a bunch of people would have died.

    And has everyone forgotten Apple maps? Really folks.

  10. Well thank goodness this esteemed blog is not wasting its time discussing (in the most absurd way possible) the shirt Matt Taylor wore to his press conference after successfully landing a box on a speeding comet some three hundred million miles from earth.

    Well….see…..THIS is where Washington State went wrong. They should have hired the firm with the guys who would wear those shirts. After all, we should WANT socially unaware borderline Asperger’s people who can focus like a laser on their complicated tasks and who aren’t aware of the politically correct nuances of feminism or anything else designing our technical systems.

    Competence no matter what they are wearing.

    On another blog I suggested that we should all wear that fabric in support. I think it would look awesome in a Dorothy Lamour style sarong.

    Sorry Haz 🙂×600

  11. Olly – that’s always creeped me out.

    What I think is funny is that the call for single payor, government run healthcare never gets affected by scandals like this.

    It’s as if a whole group of people think that past experience has zero bearing on future results. Gee, I know that the VA literally killed people via fraud and no one went to jail, and the Exchanges crash and have poor security, allowing hackers to steal all our data, and most doctors don’t accept the plans because they’re not paid enough, and the list of prescriptions covered just took a nuclear hit, but you know what would make it all better? Getting the government MORE involved! Yes, that’s it!

  12. Incompetence is just another name for when you hand out government money like party favors to your sister’s best friend’s nephew’s firm.

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