We all know that the government has a penchant for spending our money, often foolishly so. It’s not so bad when they spend money on important things, or things that work. Unfortunately, the new Obamacare site, Healthcare.gov, is not one of those things. Allow me to explain…
Before we tell you how much Healthcare.gov has cost to date and really tick you off, let’s clear one thing up. Healthcare.gov had a really rough start. It didn’t work very well, or at all really, for the first few weeks it was up. Maybe telling you that first isn’t the way to ease your conscience, but all we can do is attempt to mitigate the inevitable rage that you will feel when all this is out on the table. So, let’s get down to brass tacks. What exactly is the matter with Healthcare.gov? Much of the information in this article will be substantiated by a report from Digitaltrends.com which, though written a year ago almost to the day, has been updated and contains some of the most accurate information on the subject. As such, some of the problems they mention have been fixed… finally, but only over the course of an entire year (and with the help of millions of taxpayer dollars). Back to the problem at hand.
Weeks after the site was built it was experiencing a number of problems. These problems were due to the heavy influx of traffic, which any competent design firm should have expected and planned for. These problems included failed loading of drop-down menus, rejected user logins, and major crashes. Andrew Couts, author of the Digital Trends article, went so far as to say the federal government had built, “the digital equivalent of a rock”. Certainly over time the site steadily improved, but at something of a snails pace. It took months for developers to get it to the point where all 36 states it serviced could actually use it. There was such turmoil during the development process that CGI Federal, the developers initially tasked with building the site, were replaced by another company. The replacement company, Accenture Federal Services Inc., got things back on track and got the site finally functioning properly.
Don’t be fooled though, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. We still haven’t addressed the elephant in the room… we still haven’t discussed how much this debacle cost the American taxpayer. The number is not pretty. Cost projections have fluctuated wildly. These federal contracts are volatile, always fluctuating from one sum to one even greater, the reason being when something goes wrong the contractors will ask for more money and the fed will almost always give it to them. As such, exact stats are hard to pin down, and the number for ongoing projects like this is always rising. After much digging and fact checking we’ve settled on the Bloomberg report as the most reliable and current estimation of the Healthcare.gov development cost. According to Bloomberg, “The federal government’s Obamacare enrollment system has cost about $2.1 billion so far”. I’ll let that sink in for a second. $2.1 Billion. A truly staggering figure. All of that spent for a website that still isn’t quite right. Just to put that in perspective for you, Facebook grew for 6 years before they had spent one quarter of that sum. Instagram grew to popularity with only about $60 million in investments. Business networking giant LinkedIn only had $200 million to spend and it does perfectly well.
The issue in this case is the way our government handles federal contracts. They have a proclivity for using corporations who are affiliated with the federal government, almost always opting for agencies that are directly tied to the fed or have worked with them before. Bureaucracy is not known for it’s efficiency, or effective function, two qualities that are essential when designing a website. In the future it might be best for the federal government to look outside of the familiar and the routine and go with private web design firms for this sort of work.