October 8, 2013

USAT’s Tim Mullaney (‘HealthCare.gov is an out-of-the-box success’) Responds to My Criticism

UPDATE: I’m going to consider treating my response to Mullaney as a column.

(Capsule: Reader are welcome to comment on Tim Mullaney’s BizzyBlog comment.)

On Friday afternoon, USA Today published Tim Mullaney’s review of HealthCare.gov.

His headline: “HealthCare.gov a winner despite glitches”

His evaluation: “HealthCare.gov is an out-of-the-box success” in having “well-priced insurance, clearly explained.”

I strongly criticized his review on Saturday (at BizzyBlog; at NewsBusters).

Mullaney (tmullaney@usatoday.com) responded in a comment at BizzyBlog very early this morning, which I am reproducing here with paragraph breaks added by me:

No one said the serious part of the glitches would last two months. (Todd Park promised significant improvements by early this week, which so far looks oversold).

As for the serious part of your question, yes, it happened in 1996 to AOL for the better part of 1-2 weeks. They then went from half a million clients to 26M by 2000. Amazon had significant problems as well early on. Overstock had massive performance issues during a software upgrade in 05 or 06.

Netflix lost two-thirds of its shareholder value in the ancient times of, oh, 2011. And Priceline lost 99% of its value in 1999-2000, but is a 500-bagger since.

So yes, e-commerce companies come back from all manner of disasters, and pretty commonly. Now, were you actually interested in an answer to your question?


I’m going to reply in detail later today.

Anyone who has their own reaction is welcome to provide one in this post’s comments. They’re moderated, but I will see them, and will clear them after I do.

If you’d rather be completely anonymous you can email me directly.



  1. As a long time IT professional I can say Healthcare.gov is not an out-of-box success. I am not sure when it came out of the box but it was a clunky system when I first used it in 2011 and has not improved much since then. The first big problem is that it is impossible to figure the magnitude of the system problems until you create a userid. The login test is the equivalent of asking “Can you walk and chew bubblegum?” The answer is obviously, “No!” It failed this simple test for me on October 1, last Saturday, and once again today. All I wanted to do was check health insurance prices in Ohio. I successfully completed this check in 2011, 2012 and earlier this year. As a “long time user” I fully expected that healthcare.gov would look and feel like ehealthinsurance.com by October 1. Why not copy the best? Are they stupid? Obviously they chose to go down the less traveled path and are now paying the price. In all of those checks I was never required to create a userid. One of the cardinal sins of ecommerce design is requiring the customer to create a userid before proceeding. From both a design and execution viewpoint, they failed miserably.

    Eventually they will figure out how to create userids. This is really simple stuff even with their traffic. My greater concern is that the system is doomed to a future of perpetual chaos. The really tough parts of this system have probably not tested and this system is now in maintenance mode. A commenter on the Incidental Economist said that he/she did not receive the specs for the Medicaid portion until eight days before the go live date. Late specs imply that no testing was performed. By definition when a customer, the government in this case, starts using the system in production mode, the system has passed acceptance testing and it is time to move responsibility for updating the system to the maintenance staff. If you think this will be smooth transition there is an old saying that the only time the maintenance and development staff meet is in the bath room. Okay, so we have a poorly tested system that is going to be debugged in the production environment. This is a recipe for disaster. The insurance companies are rightfully concerned that each application they receive will have to manually checked to make sure that they got the right data. I expect their administrative costs to sky rocket and the insurance companies are probably lobbying to be granted an exemption from the 80/20 rule during the exchange start-up.

    Despite all of these problem I expect that the exchanges will work eventually for the uninsured and people with pre-existing conditions. They are more than willing to subject themselves to the unpleasant experience to get a better health insurance plan. I have a friend who will lower his health insurance costs because he has two insurance plans, one for him because he suffers from diabetes and another one for his family. Combing those two plans will probably save hime $500 per month. For the healthy it will be a bitter experience. When they finally login they will find that their plan has been replaced with a higher cost plan with unnecessary benefits and higher deductibles. Money they were trying save for retirement is now going to pay someone else’s health care subsidy. Is that what we are calling health care reform? Yeah, I am bitter!

    Comment by Bill Huber — October 8, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

  2. I would hazard a guess that all of those companies could very accurately tell you at any time how many had bought their product. After all, that was the measure of success.

    Comment by Jim — October 9, 2013 @ 7:00 am

  3. Interesting that liberals are so quick to redirect everyone’s attention to the “technical” glitches from the actual bugs, i.e. health care is not affordable, super high deductibles that would make catastrophic plans blush, those with pre-existing illnesses penalized when it was explicitly said they would not be, etc…

    But then I suspect the “glitches” are deliberate as liberals already knew that IF the healthcare.gov portal were to have been beta tested prior to roll out that everyone all at once would have focused on the “bugs” of ObamaCare not delivering what was promised. Think about it, the very company that designed the Canadian system had a working template from Canada and has these kind of problems???? This is just like the fight over defunding ObamaCare over shadowing the real issue of rampant out of control spending that can no longer be sustained, THAT is the real reason for the CR and Reid’s refusal to obey the law with voting on the the 12 or 13 appropriation bills to fund the government. Reid and Obama don’t want the details to be discussed, they need that glossed over via a document dump in this case a $4 trillion budget all at once.

    Comment by dscott — October 9, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

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