All Tech Considered
5:47 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

The Tech Stats We Now Know About HealthCare.gov

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 8:01 pm

The big numbers out today are the administration's counts of how many people actually enrolled in health exchanges between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2. More than 106,000 Americans selected health plans in the first month, the government said.

But the release comes on the same day the government's top technology officials headed to Capitol Hill to explain the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov, the site that President Obama once pledged would make buying health insurance as easy as getting a plane ticket online. It's obviously not — and after wide scrutiny, the system is still a work in progress.

Here are a few key numbers about what the system can and cannot handle:

  • The site's response rate was originally eight seconds — "which is totally unacceptable," U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park told a House oversight committee.
  • Programmers have improved that to one second, but efforts are underway to shorten the response time to a fraction of a second.
  • Park said the system was designed to handle 50,000 to 60,000 concurrent users.
  • Today, with fixes, it can handle about half the intended capacity with 20,000 to 25,000 concurrent users at most, Park said.
  • The day before the site launched, HealthCare.gov could handle only 1,100 users at the same time, said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., citing a press release.
  • The site can now process 17,000 registrations an hour, or 5 per second, according to Henry Chao, HealthCare.gov's chief project manager.
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Transcript

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Even before those numbers were released, the Obama administration's technology gurus faced a grilling today on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers wanted to know what went wrong with the HealthCare.gov software system. But as NPR's Elise Hu reports, some big questions went unanswered.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Healthcare.gov's issues have gotten various vettings before lawmakers now. But it was the first time for members of the House Oversight Committee to examine this very public technological failure.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: This was a monumental mistake to go live and effectively explode on the launch pad.

HU: That's committee chair Darrell Issa, the California Republican whose panel has, for the last month, investigated the missteps that led to a broken site.

ISSA: Whether you like Obamacare or not, taxpayer dollars were wasted, precious time was wasted, the American people's promise of Obamacare in fact does not exist today in a meaningful way.

HU: The site can now handle about 25,000 users at the same time. And that's much more than day one but still about half what U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park said the administration intended. He and other top government tech officials testified before lawmakers, assuring them engineers are making progress. Park used faster system response rates as an example.

TODD PARK: Just a few weeks ago, that rate was on average eight seconds across the system, which is totally unacceptable. It's now actually under a second today.

HU: The topic was tech but it didn't prevent political posturing, like this exchange started by Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM COOPER: I believe in fairness and the American people do not want to see a kangaroo court here.

HU: Chairman Issa was quick to respond.

ISSA: Kangaroo courts...

COOPER: By using...

ISSA: ...is quite an accusation. And I hope the gentleman of Tennessee when he uses the term kangaroo court in the future will think better of making an accusation.

HU: When they got beyond the political theater, lawmakers pressed witnesses on why stress testing on the entire technology system didn't happen. Why the agency overseeing the rollout underestimated user volume and security risks. And why contractors make so much money for sub par services, as Tennessee Republican John Duncan pointed out.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DUNCAN: What I'm more concerned about is all the sweetheart insider deals that government contractors get under these programs, and all the people and companies that are getting filthy rich.

HU: Whether it was contractors to blame or agency officials, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan just wanted to know who was supposed to be calling the shots.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN: Who is the IT person? Is that Mr. Van Roekel? Is that Mr. Park? Is it Mr. Chao? Which of you is that person?

PARK: I don't know. I didn't speak to the president.

JORDAN: No, but he refers to a person. Who would it be? Who is the IT person in charge?

HU: Whoever he was looking for wasn't sitting before him. In short, the day-long panel didn't reveal new problems that aren't already on the punch list of fixes. The administration pledges to have the site functional by the end of this month. Witnesses say the work on the system will never really end. As they move forward major questions remain.

Again, Representative Duncan.

DUNCAN: Does anybody know? If we've spent 600 million already and it's not working, does anybody have any idea how much all this is going to cost us in the end?

HU: That's a question the witnesses couldn't answer.

DUNCAN: Nobody knows?

HU: Elise Hu, NPR News, Washington.

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