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Nation/World

October 9, 2013

Questionable design blamed for health website woes

(Continued)

“That was a design recommendation and they didn’t do it,” Karp said. While several states that built their own online marketplaces do allow for window shopping, the federal site serving 36 states does not.

Technology-wise, requiring accounts greatly magnified the amount of work the federal website would have to do, increasing chances of bottlenecks and other problems.

“There is an awful lot of stuff going back and forth in this system,” said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality, which develops standards. “There is a lot of inefficient (software) code in there, and then when you throw a huge load on it, it really exacerbates the problems.”

Added Karp, “If they had had anonymous shopping, many people would have taken that route and it would have potentially relieved the traffic on the identity verification part of the site.”

The health care law was designed to provide insurance for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job. Middle-class uninsured people can buy a government-subsidized private plan, while the poor and near-poor will be steered to Medicaid in states that agreed to expand the safety-net program. The online insurance markets were envisioned as the 21st century portal to an overhauled system.

Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said Tuesday the government omitted a window-shopping function because officials first wanted consumers to know the amount of the subsidy they might be eligible for. Those income-based tax credits can dramatically reduce premiums for people with modest incomes, and personal financial information is needed to calculate the subsidies.

“Our process allows us to show consumers plans with prices that reflect what they will pay with the tax credit they may be eligible for,” Peters said. “Window shopping would not allow for this.”

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