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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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October 17th, 2013
06:51 PM ET

Problems plague Obamacare rollout

President Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and indeed his administration, have been well-known for being on the cutting edge of technology.

Yet when it came to the roll out of Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, someone dropped the tech-savvy ball.

The federal exchange website "healthcare.gov" has at times been slow, inaccessible to users, and – in the words of the White House – prone to frequent "glitches."

The administration expected about 60,000 people to sign up for an account at the same time, but ended up getting 250,000 people, which overwhelmed the system, said Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer for the Obama White House, the first person to hold that job.

"The good news is we're not inventing a new form of physics, we're simply addressing the problem that's been identified, they're looking to find ways to expand that capacity at that account creation step, it will be resolved over the next couple of weeks," said Chopra.

But the problems are not limited to volume.

"According to other IT experts, it's been software issues, in addition to not knowing what the volume was going to be," said former Medicare director for the George H. W. Bush administration Gail Wilensky.

An early policy decision put undue burden on the website, said Wilensky. Normally, online shoppers can browse products anonymously, decide whether they want to buy something, and then go through the process of providing personal information.

"The administration made the decision that they didn't want people to look at options, unless they also had the subsidy that they would receive available to them. They were afraid of sticker shock," said Wilensky.

So in order to see any of the options available, users have to set up an online account, providing a lot of personal information, before they even see available options.

"Many technical experts said that was a serious mistake to make - the administration chose to go that direction," said Wilensky.

The administration did launch a website – data.healthcare.gov – detailing the raw file of every plan and every price at the same time it launched the health exchange website.

"Now the government itself, on healthcare.gov, obviously, primarily was about making sure that the right person was given the right information," said Chopra.

Medicaid eligible users, for example, should not be told to shop on an exchange when they will ultimately go to the Medicaid program, said Chopra. "That's a similar kind of bad customer experience."

Chopra also noted that as soon as the anonymous buyer criticism surfaced, the administration responded within days.

"You can today anonymously shop on healthcare.gov, kind of reflecting this nimble response the administration is putting forward," said Chopra.

But the administration is refusing to release data showing the number of people who have signed up, and enrolled in Obamacare, seeming to suggest that few people have enrolled.

Chopra cited reporting from The Washington Post, which found more than 1 million accounts had been created.

"If a million on the federal site have already set up the account, that's a pretty big number in just the first week or so," said Chopra.

But those numbers are not official.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, are calling for Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to resign over the failure of the website.

"It's premature to have a decision of that nature," said Wilensky.

If fixing the technical issues takes a long time, and is more difficult than anticipated, it'd be comparable in the private sector to a company botching up the roll out of an important activity, said Wilensky.

"If not resigning, some serious reduction in stature and status would normally accompany that kind of a botched roll out," said Wilensky.

The glitches and ongoing problems with the federal exchange should make the administration uneasy.

"If it was as difficult to get through the first phases of implementation, is there some assurance that come January 1 it won't be comparably difficult?" asked Wilensky.

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