State fixing website for health care

bshannon@theolympian.comOctober 3, 2013 

Washington state's online health insurance marketplace, wahealthplanfinder.org, was malfunctioning for many customers the morning of its Oct. 1 debut. State officials took the site down for several hours Oct. 1 to assess what wasn't working, and had it back online by 2 p.m. (Screenshot of wahealthplanfinder.org)

Washington state’s new online marketplace for health care was running better but not without slowdowns Wednesday, the second day of enrollment under the federal Affordable Care Act reform.

“We have heard from some (consumers) the experience is a little bit better today. We are working to make it better,’’ Healthplanfinder spokeswoman Bethany Frey said. The agency planned to pull the system offline again from about 10 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday as it continued to repair the system.

Despite having to pull the system offline for parts of its first day, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange said thousands of consumers were going to the website at wahealthplanfinder.org and also calling toll-free numbers at the exchange call center in Spokane. It said wait times for callers were averaging 1 minute, 13 seconds.

The agency released other data showing the site had seen 6,385 insurance accounts created the first day, and another 6,199 calls were logged at a toll-free call center in Spokane.

Consumers can use the website to shop for individual insurance policies on the private market for calendar year 2014. Open enrollment runs from Oct. 1 through March 31 for as many as 1 million Washingtonians not already covered by other plans.

The exchange system is designed to calculate the size of tax subsidies each consumer may qualify for based on income and family size.

The insurance exchange at one point Wednesday was blaming unexpected consumer behavior for some of the computer glitches and site slowdowns on data processing. This included “sporadic, exploratory navigation,” agency CEO Richard Onizuka said in a statement that also described “that unexpected user activity and interaction with the marketplace.”

The result is that the system, which was built from scratch by the Deloitte LLP firm under a $54.8 million contract, suffered “bottlenecks” when processing data, Frey said.

“User behavior is always very difficult to anticipate in the real environment. We did extensive testing, but some user behavior we saw at launch was unexpected,’’ Frey explained.

Onizuka had been confident last week that the system was built to handle twice the anticipated first-day volumes.

Spokesmen for Gov. Jay Inslee say he was being kept apprised of the problems and repairs.

“We’re satisfied that they have the right people working on this and are trying to get it fixed as fast as possible. Our interest, as is the interest of many Washingtonians, that this gets fixed as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.

Deloitte secured its contract through a competitive bidding process, according to exchange officials.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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