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. Is it sock puppet weekend? So many new names and yet they defy the odds and all align politically; with the same quality as our resident puppetmaster.

  2. Working out the kinks in the code should be done before launch.

    That’s why major companies like Amazon rarely have problems like this, and they’re global.

  3. One of the problems is that government officials are much freer spending other people’s money than their own. And when that money gets wasted, they don’t have the regret, or urge to fix the situation, that they would have if it hurt them financially.

  4. I’m a software developer. Yes, complex systems can be difficult to write. However, there are long-established procedures and methods for testing and it seems clear little or no testing was done here.

    I’m not sure which is more alarming; that totals were off (which indicates bad data) or that the CEO said golly, the totals were only off by a few dollars.

  5. Invariably, government overpays for under delivered services in our broken procurement system.

    This is one of the many reasons why government-run anything is inefficient, bloated, and unreasonable. We could expect more of the same with single-payor.

  6. “Spokeswoman Bethany Frey suggested consumers try again another day.”

    In the private sector (where people are judged by what they produce), this would results in heads rolling.

    In the government sector, it is business as usual.

    And government workers wonder why taxpayers have contempt for them!

  7. shafar, I spent ~7 years of my life as a govt. worker. Hated it. And got the hell out. Lot’s of folks like myself.

  8. 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.

  9. Federal exchange website worked great. I already had an account and just had to update.

  10. @ Ed Spinelli
    “Good enough for government work”? Hmmmm!
    Were you or were you not a “government worker” of sorts?

    Murphy (Of Murphy Law and its corollaries)was an optimist!

  11. They manufactured a virus ahead of time to eat the decimal points and the hyphens too.

    1. happypappies – not sure they manufactured a virus, just wrote some bad code, which seem typical. I was at a new neurosurgeon’s and was complaining how bad the code was written for his program with one of the other patients. We had both had done some coding, he a lot more than me, but he had had the same problems I had had with the software.

  12. Frank

    As someone who develops software for engineers to use for their analysis work, I will make rash comments. With modern development environments, unit tests, etc., there is no good excuse for this.

  13. If you have never written code before nor have been involved in solving software problems then one should not make rash
    and overly critical comments. It is not a simple task, in point of fact it is very complex.
    It is as though one who has never read the law makes rediciulous assumptions about how courts work.

    1. Frank – there are ways code should work and ways it should not. Screwing up the total is not how the code should work. 😉

  14. $1 million dollars is a few dollars as far as the government is concerned. I would really be concerned about how far off those numbers really are.

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