When it's all over, building and then replacing health-insurance Web site could cost state $121 million

WBUR reports on the continuing irony of the first state in the nation to offer near universal health coverage having to throw out the site it hired a contractor to build to handle changes brought about by Obamacare.

Ed. insurance note: More than seven months after we applied for coverage under Obamacare through the Mass. Health Connector, we still don't know exactly how we'll be covered after June 30, when our current coverage is now set to expire.



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        Makes no sense to me why the

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        Makes no sense to me why the local company which built the original state health connector website wasn't selected to do the new one.


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        They weren't political connected, welcome to mASS!


        Didn't the President's wife go to college with someone from the federal website designer?
        So you're probably right, only it's not mASS, it's federal...

        Too bad.

        If you like your "original state health connector website" you can keep your original state health connector website.


        ...just went club fed. They gave up the ghost. Lemme see, half a billion per state time fifty states...

        "The FBI reportedly is probing the failed launch of Oregon's ObamaCare insurance exchange, joining several other agencies looking into the multimillion-dollar program that was scrapped last month. "
        "The state received more than $300 million in federal grants to launch and operate the health care system. Much of what it has spent so far has gone to Oracle Corp.
        But the system never fully got off the ground, forcing residents to use a hybrid online-and-paper process to buy insurance."



        Koch Brothers. Faux News. KochKochKoch.*
        *Senator Dirty Harry Reid, (D) Nevada.

        not really

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        I"m a front-end web developer for one of the top 10 websites in the US. There are a lot of different skillsets that go into a job like this:

        1. Software engineers - different engineers will need to specialize on different aspects of the project. You may have some people working on front-end development (the interaction with the user), some people working on back-end development (services that talk to databases), someone to look after the overall architecture, maybe someone to manage the process of building and deploying your code to production servers.
        2. Software engineers in test - if you want your project to be at all maintainable you can't just write code. You also have to write code that automatically tests the other code. If someone makes a change you want to do some automated testing to make sure that the change doesn't break anything. Depending on the size of the team and the project you may have one or more people whose entire job is writing code that tests other code. Whether or not you have specialized engineers in test, all of your engineers are going to be responsible for writing tests for the code they work on.
        3. Product managers - somebody has to sort out the exact requirements, which are likely to be very complex
        4. Designers - Programmers don't tend to know a lot about how to make software that's usable. Usually you have a collaborative process between designers, product managers and engineers to try to build the most usable software possible.
        5. QA - you'll probably want to pay some people to push every button on the site and make sure that everything works as expected. When you release new software you'll want them manually verify that your new code (A) fixed the problem it was supposed to fix and (B) didn't break anything else
        6. Management - you can start to get a sense of how much overhead there is. You're going to need some people to deal with prioritizing tasks, coordinating between teams, people management, etc. This doesn't necessarily have to be a lot of people, but you need someone in this role.
        7. Operations - When your server goes down at 11PM who gets paged? Is it an engineer or do you want someone dedicated to just making sure that the servers work properly?

        Startups don't work like this. They can have a couple of people build something simple and then iteratively add more features. They can restrict their audience to a small group while they work out the bugs and make their code more stable (think Facebook which initially was pretty simplistic and limited to a few schools). If they want to they can do things the quick instead of doing them right with the idea that they'll come back later when they have the resources and re-engineer their code. None of that is acceptable when you have to meet a detailed list of contract requirements for an entire state on day 1.

        You can see how you can get into tens of millions of dollars pretty easily. My company pays new college grads in computer science about $90,000/year plus a $25,000 starting bonus plus stock options. More senior engineers will make more than that and management will make even more. Then you have to factor in the infrastructure costs (servers and connectivity) and then the contractor has to pay for their own overhead and then actually make a profit off of this.

        So you can see how this project can get into the tens of millions of dollars pretty quickly. Is the cost inflated? Possibly, but its not inflated by 100x.

        My feelings are hurt

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        You kind of mentioned my job function in your description but I'd like to give myself a shout-out. We're the ones who take a hot mess of jumbled data and somehow manage to build a data warehouse out of it.

        Your programmer friend and the Health Connector website

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        Does your programmer friend know what APTC is and how to calculate it?

        Does your programmer friend know how to integrate the data from the Health Connector database into a print vendor that generates and sends out the invoices? Don't forget the properly formatted and approved logos!

        Has your friend ever built a system that ties into a lockbox and processes payments?

        How much does your friend know about Conact Center phone and CRM systems?

        Other questions to ask your friend:

        How do you handle a mixed household?

        What's an autism waiver? How do you get one if your child is on the autism spectrum?

        Can you be an illegal immigrant and buy insurance through the connector? If not, what are the different ways the system can determine that you are here lawfully?

        What are some of the conditions whereby you can re-shop for a plan during closed enrollment?

        How does the Health Connector define a small group? Can a business with one person be a small group or does that person have to have individual coverage?

        How many payments can you miss before your policy gets cancelled for non-payment? Is the cancellation retroactive to the month during which you made your last payment? Who takes the financial hit for that non-payment -- the Health Connector or the insurance carrier?

        What's an 834? What's an 820?

        Your friend better get moving. Open enrollment starts in a few months.

        Note: Edited to fix a grammar mistake.


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        The way this state, and Gov. Deval Patrick in particular, has handle this whole situation is absolutely ridiculous. To go from having what was arguably the best system in place to the absolute is just a completely embarrassing. It's a complete failure on all levels.

        If it ain't broke, don't fix it - the state's rights version.

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        Regardless of how you feel about what (if any) role government should play in our healthcare system, everyone should agree that it is totally unacceptable that the passage of a federal law should cause so much disruption to a state regulatory regime that by nearly every account was working very well - and certainly better than every other in this country.

        So far as I am concerned, even if the state's contractor was incompetent (I don't know for sure that this was the case), the federal government has a moral obligation to pay for the vast majority of the cost associated with the fix on this basis alone. The feds could then recoup any proceeds that might be collected in what I hope will be a vigorously pursued lawsuit against any contractor incompetence.

        And by the way, the irony aspect is all well and good for the media types. I look at it as $121M that is not being spent on the T or other transportation improvements, and that isn't ironic. It's maddening and frustrating.

        We have met the enemy and it is us.

        The federal government has a moral obligation to pay for the vast majority of the cost associated with the fix

        The federal government's source of money is, ultimately, us.

        And since it is, ultimately, "us"...

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        perhaps we can get a little more back than the roughly 82 cents for every dollar Massachusetts sends to Washington.

        While we're at it, perhaps our congressional delegation (and those of the other overwhelmingly donor states), should get together and tell those "low-tax!", "free-enterprise!", "less-regulation!" freeloading southern and western states that rather than complaining about the size of the federal government (funded mostly by those of us in states they profess to dislike the policies and politics of), they should just STFU and say thank you for the subsidies that we have been sending them since at least Reconstruction and continue to send to them today.

        A good place to start would be to get the portions (roughly along the Acela corridor) of the 8 or so states between DC and here that produce well over 20% of the national GDP to say to the rest of the country that we want and need real high speed rail and we want it now.

        Um, ya.

        The feds DID pay for most of it. It's still a train wreck. IANAP (programmer), but from what I read, there was just too much going on to make it all work right. Querying a bunch of different databases, if one didn't work it crashed then it's start over time, insanely long wait times, random crashes, window hangups, freezes, Obamacare had it all.

        Like I said...If you like your "original state health connector website" you can keep your original state health connector website.

        Too bad. The federal government and I mean the Democrat politicians that brought this upon us, should be held responsible. Start over, do it right, maybe it could work. What we have now is an epic disaster.
        Oh, you're right about the $121 million.

        Achieving the impossible

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        I thought that we had reached the absolute pinnacle of state-driven incompetence under Jane Swift. Sadly, I was mistaken.

        You were mistaken.

        This is state driven incompetence, brought to you by Obamacare and its backers, Dirty Harry and Nancy Pelosi and their followers.

        Don't blame anyone else. It rests squarely on their shoulders.

        Incompetence yes, but not a Democratic thing

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        By all the accounts I've read, Kentucky's health-connector site has worked wonderfully (yes, Kentucky!). Ditto for Connecticut. Somehow, they were able to integrate the Obamacare requirements with an online purchasing system in a way that the state that helped spawn the computer revolution failed at.

        It was a "Democrat Thing"

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        MA Democrats knew the site was not working and the Patrick administration went forward with the launch. Not to mention the President lied to an entire country about how this law would affect people existing coverage.