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Building the interface for Obamacare isn't just "developing a website," it's developing an unprecedented national network that connects ALL our biggest national agencies (SS, HHS, IRS, SSA, DHS, VHA, Peace Corps, OPM and DOD) with ALL our state/city government offices - from NYC's City Hall to the records in the basement of East Bumfuck, USA. South Bumfuck, too, and that's in the deepest, reddest south.

I'll give you a billion dollars right now to build one algorithm that extracts, compares, matches, then confirms individual citizen data from the secure databases of all 50 state governments - including dozens run by Republicans determined to sabotage you. The algorithm must connect securely and convert the state's variables into a universal variable for the ACA's data hub.

The Obamacare website must knit together platforms from five huge federal agencies — Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration, HHS, the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice — each of which marches to its own IT specifications. It must also interact with separate systems set up by the 15 states that built their own exchanges, plus all of those outside insurers.

It’s an unprecedented experiment in federal information technology.

“If they pull it off, they will be making IT history,” said Stephen Parente, director of the Medical Industry Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota and a former health care adviser to Sen. John McCain. “This has never been done before.”

OK. Ready? Go! ... Wait! Don't forget the legal hurdles:
Computer Matching Agreements are required for data exchanges between CMS and IRS, SSA, DHS, VHA, and DOD because information is transmitted from the data hub and matched against the other agencies’ records for use by the exchanges or Medicaid or CHIP agencies for use in eligibility determinations.
Uh Oh, wait again!

I've lived in eleven states over my lifetime, and I have a very common name. The algorithm that executes when I click "SUBMIT APPLICATION" will have to compare all the data in all those states to make sure I haven't signed up there ... or the thousands of other women with my name.

Oh, and BTW  - no, I was not born in 1917, even though two of the credit agencies insist I was, in spite of my repeated efforts to prove I'm not 97 years old. The last state I lived in kept sending me information about collecting social security. So, that magical SUBMIT APPLICATION button must parse inaccurate data, too.

Imagine what Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele is going through?

It's not "just building a website" by any stretch of the imagination. I'm so sick of people saying it. Even web developers are saying it, when they clearly should know better. I'm just a graphic designer, but I've done enough web development to know a SUBMIT APPLICATION button doesn't just load the next page.

I get that it's frustrating. But I also get that it's technology that's never even been attempted before, so I'm patient. It's history being made.

After all, I've been waiting since 1997 to see a doctor. Now, the only thing between me an a doctor are the tech nerds that I love so much. They'll get it done.

If you're interested in reading more, check out the government status report from June: PATIENT PROTECTION AND AFFORDABLE CARE ACT Status of CMS Efforts to Establish Federally Facilitated Health Insurance Exchanges

[UPDATE] I just got a blast email from the White House titled, I kid you not, "More than just a website." Key points of the email:

Here are some of the things we've done in the meantime to make the process easier. Take a look, and pass this message along to those you know who are trying to sign up for health care:
    •    You can now preview plans and prices available in your area without filling out the online application.
    •    You can find out, with an improved calculator, whether your income and household size may qualify you for lower costs on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
    •    You can apply for coverage 4 ways: by phone, online, by mail with a paper application, or with the help of an in-person assister.
Thanks, and stay tuned for more updates.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you Eileen! (7+ / 0-)


    You are right, it is history being made.  

    Whew! You have shown it is more complicated than most of us would ever realize.  I just hope people will be patient because complaining about it isn't helping anyone.

    I would rather spend my life searching for truth than live a single day within the comfort of a lie. ~ John Victor Ramses

    by KayCeSF on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:09:21 PM PDT

    •  I totally get why it's upsetting, and bitching (14+ / 0-)

      about it is normal.

      But, I can't help being infuriated when I hear people say they're programmers, web developers or tech experts, then make claims like "teenagers could whip out in a month" or some such crap.

      Check out my progressive tshirts & gear: or my hand-drawn reproduction of Rachel's Excelsior Poster from Friends available on cards, stickers, curtains etc.

      by Eileen B on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:16:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks. Kos's front-page rant belongs on Redstate (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Cooler heads will prevail. Luckily we have a really cool head leading this country, and who was much more productive in his comments to America from outside his home than Kos was in his rant.

        "If they're shooting at you, you know you must be doing something right"

        by ayjaymay on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:34:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Eh. I'm not sure he was wrong about anything. (0+ / 0-)

          He didn't go with any of the lines about why can't HHS be just like Facebook. He pointed out that the contractor involved has a history that should've been a red flag. And he acknowledged that this will all be forgotten well before November 2014.

          Fact is, people screwed up. Now, too many pundits seem to think the government screwed up an easy this, when actually it screwed up a very difficult thing. But it was an important thing, and I'm not sure how Kos is out of line to call for accountability.

          Code Monkey like freedom / Code Monkey like peace and justice too
          Code Monkey very nerdy man / With big warm fuzzy bleeding heart
          Code Monkey like you!

          Formerly known as Jyrinx.

          by Code Monkey on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:53:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  No. He pointed to a single project. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wee Mama, TheOpinionGuy, Eileen B

            The 'history' that he pointed to was a single project. All companies experience IT failures - more than half of all IT project fail -though CGI has a better repuation than most in managing successful projects.  CGI works on 1,000's of successful IT projects a year for both Commercial (banks, Telecom companies, utiilities, insurance companies, hospitals, retail companies) and Government (Federal, State, and Local governments) entities, though kos failed to mention any of those.

            CGI's actual reputation for its quality work for Fortune 500 companies and Government entities is reflected in its stock price.  This will be but a small blip on its reputation from its 37 years in business.

            "If they're shooting at you, you know you must be doing something right"

            by ayjaymay on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 05:06:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No, its stock price reflects its reputation (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Eileen B

              for making money.

              You may have a point that one failed project doesn't mean they suck, but I'll need more than stock numbers to tell me they don't.

              Code Monkey like freedom / Code Monkey like peace and justice too
              Code Monkey very nerdy man / With big warm fuzzy bleeding heart
              Code Monkey like you!

              Formerly known as Jyrinx.

              by Code Monkey on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 05:17:04 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm sure you did your own research (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Wee Mama, petral

                ...though here is just some recognition that CGI's received:


                ISO 9001 Certified:  In 1994, CGI became the first North American company in its category to secure ISO 9001 certification for its Project Management Framework.   Continuing a rich tradition of quality assurance, CGI has achieved this certification for its entire CGI Management Foundation, covering its three major stakeholder groups—clients, members (the term CGI uses for employees) and

                Forrester: CGI ranks as a strong performer

                Frost & Sullivan (2013):  CGI won the 2013 North American Government Cloud Solutions Company of the Year Award

                Gartner: CGI is positioned in the Challengers Quadrant in the following Gartner reports:
                Magic Quadrant for North American Desktop Outsourcing Services, 2012;
                Magic Quadrant for North American Help Desk Outsourcing Services, 2012;
                Magic Quadrant for Managed Security Services Providers, 2012;
                Magic Quadrant for Data Center Outsourcing & Infrastructure Utility Services, 2012.

                Health 2.0 (2010) - CGI is named the 2010 winner of the “Challenge for Consumer Apps to Visualize Heath Care Quality Measures“ supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

                CGI is rated Positive in Gartner’s  “Marketscope for Business Intelligence and Information Management Services, North America, 2012“

                Cooler heads will prevail. And we have the coolest head in the White House.

                by ayjaymay on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 05:43:49 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  CGI was asked to fix another contractor's system (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Wee Mama, petral

                "CGI Federal, ... is responsible for the architecture of major parts of the system, but not for its integration. Quality Software Services Inc., or Q.S.S.I., a unit of the UnitedHealth Group, developed the identity management system, another major component that allowed consumers to register and establish accounts.

                The identity management system from Q.S.S.I., which also taps into government databases to retrieve users’ personal information, was a particular source of trouble when the exchange opened. Change orders show that on Oct. 4 — after millions of people had been trapped in technological loops trying merely to log in — the government asked CGI to help it devise a new identity management system to replace the one provided by Q.S.S.I. But specialists said that approach was abandoned as too risky. Ultimately it was decided to fix the current identity system."


                Cooler heads will prevail. And we have the coolest head in the White House.

                by ayjaymay on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 06:04:49 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  apologists are not what we need now (0+ / 0-)

          Team OFA screwed this one badly. Accept that and move on. As a tax-payer Kos has a right to rant, as do I, you ... etc..

          As a person who has championed OFA, both Kos and I get to rant - they OWED America more than the $500 million disaster - it's that simple. They screwed it badly, ACA is at risk because of it (don't tell me ACA is unaffected by this - big mistakes cause risk), and we get to rant - got that?

  •  I'm curious ... are there Kossacks here (6+ / 0-)

    that have ever written algorithms to connect multiple databases? I'd love to hear your take.

    Check out my progressive tshirts & gear: or my hand-drawn reproduction of Rachel's Excelsior Poster from Friends available on cards, stickers, curtains etc.

    by Eileen B on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:12:08 PM PDT

    •  I haven't, but I know it's complicated enough (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eileen B, splashy, Lawrence

      to connect to one database …

      Code Monkey like freedom / Code Monkey like peace and justice too
      Code Monkey very nerdy man / With big warm fuzzy bleeding heart
      Code Monkey like you!

      Formerly known as Jyrinx.

      by Code Monkey on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:35:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes. (8+ / 0-)

      I've worked on internet banking web sites, and was intimately involved in the connections to both own back-end hosts and to various externals services such as bill-payor services, credit and debit card production services, and loan processors.

      Such integrations are always beta'd at selected clients to work out the kinks. Always. Bringing one of these online in full production would have been regarded as utterly insane. And that's with data that doesn't have to conform to HIPAA restrictions.

      That worked at all given the release requirements is astonishing, much less registering 100K people per week.

      For comparison, look at Oregon's roll-out, which spent 10x more $$ per user and totally fell over at release. It still hasn't registered anyone to my knowledge.

      "What could BPossibly go wrong??" -RLMiller "God is just pretend." - eru

      by nosleep4u on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:48:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have ... (8+ / 0-)

      ... but nothing within an order of magnitude of this complexity or anywhere near this kind of system load.  It is actually not that hard if you can be guaranteed that everything will work as planned, but that is NEVER the case.  Handling error conditions and timing is the real trick and it can quickly become an impossible Gordian knot.  Calls to one DB are dependent on returns from other calls that can fail or return unexpected data.  What errors can be ignored, what can be filled in with later batch calls, and what call for a bail out and rollback?  If you do have to rollback, how do you do that on multiple systems with different transaction architectures and how do you handle the possible errors in that?  A nightmare.

      I would bet that the point of failure in this was the in the QA - those wonderful, infuriating, anal-retentive people that send your program back to you many times before they grudgingly admit it might work.  They write load test scenarios and edge condition test cases that go way beyond anything you can imagine in your worst nightmares (and of course always happen when the program goes live).  No programmer ever, ever gets it right the first time, and these are the people that keep you honest.

      Republican motto: " The only thing we have is fear itself."

      by lgrabowski on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:49:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  it is complicated, and hard... (0+ / 0-)

    ..that's why you don't release it to the public if it isn't ready. It wasn't ready. Not even close.

    They should have waited until it was ready, or had an alternate plan ready to go.

    I fear that it was released for political reasons. If that idiot Issa can connect the dots, it will be much worse than delaying the roll a few weeks.

    What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. SAM HARRIS

    by Cpqemp on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:20:52 PM PDT

  •  Thanks very much. This gives a much broader (8+ / 0-)

    picture of what is being done.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:24:48 PM PDT

  •  I've been waiting for Ezra Klein (7+ / 0-)

    to call FB a disaster.  Considering it's been glitching all day.  Oh and I haven't been able to access my yahoo account and there is something wrong with the helpline number!  Wherever is Ezra and Chuck on this!

  •  Yes, I've done that. (15+ / 0-)

    Done it with SOA.  Done it with message oriented middleware.  Done it with bizzare fortran/embedded SQL/VAX/VMS scripts.   Looked at how to do it at firmware level with Sleepycat's Berkeley DB.  Done it with Oracle's SQL*plus, PL/SQL, snapshots (Materialized Views in modernspeak) across networks (which isn't recommended), JDBC, and Golden Gate.

    One of the largest pain-in-the-ass things to do is to work with somebody who isn't you, with a vendor or customer.  Their test environments are usually rudimentary, their test data laughable and their willingness to coordinate for integration and user tests minimal.

    This is something like integrating with dozens of different vendors and dozens of different customers, while half of management is utterly hostile to the idea and at least some of the people involved are actively trying to sabotage the entire effort.

    Assuming you get past all that, the typical approach to integrating data from multiple databases is to populate a central datastore that has aggregated information from all the diverse sources and then run your logic against that.   This is sometimes temporary, just for the duration of the logic, sometimes permanent, to speed up future attempts.  

    The problem with permanent is that you have to keep it up to date.  This usually means creating one-way feeds that push data whenever a source system changes.  That's straightforward except if your data must be correct, you need monitors to know if the stream ever got broken, some kind of variance metrics to know if data leaked, etc.  It gives the best performance and can be very robust, but it's expensive to set up and maintain.

    If that is not practical, the usual approach is to query everything in real time and fail the transaction if any of the diverse sources do not respond with what you need.  For example a shopping cart application will typically do all of the following when you hit submit.

    1.  Verify that the products in the cart exist, are in inventory and are priced correctly.
    2.  Verify the credit card using a third party that specializes in such things, and send all CC info to that third party for storage, getting only a transaction number back from them, in case you have to bill the CC again (most shopping carts don't store your CC.  Regulatory requirements are too hard for nonspecialists)
    3.  If tax needs to be recalculated, it will happen now, usually another specialized application, which requires valid country and usually zip code, sometimes county.
    4.  If the currency isn't the one used by the back end, there is often some kind of currency conversion logic.
    5.  The final transaction must be saved somewhere and handshake indicating success received.

    The inventory, credit card, tax and final transaction repository may be four separate systems.  All must be up and running for the transaction to be accepted.  The improvement of clustered app servers, web servers and database instances has helped this a lot, and network is more reliable than in the old days.  This sort of thing used to be done in asynchronous batch jobs for B2B (it's called EDI, it predates the Web by quite a bit) and still is for a lot of larger transactions because it is easier if you don't have to verify all the bits and pieces in one go.

    I don't know what does after "submit" but it is probably an order of  magnitude more complex than a shopping cart.   It does look like from some things I've heard from the one individual I've talked to that worked on it that there was a significant effort to at least know what component failed when a problem occurred.  It's complex enough that this would not be obvious without some kind of trace built into the code and error handling at the back end.

    •  Excellent summary, thank you. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Pain in the ass is quite an understatement!

      Check out my progressive tshirts & gear: or my hand-drawn reproduction of Rachel's Excelsior Poster from Friends available on cards, stickers, curtains etc.

      by Eileen B on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:38:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I wouldn't be surprised (0+ / 0-)

      if there are laws like HIPAA that prohibit the level of centralization you'd want … yeah. Big mess.

      (Makes me wonder if this is the reason for the much-maligned Service-Oriented Architecture design for the back end. If you can't centralize, modularization might be the only way. 'Course, it might also have just been buzzword compliance—SOA is way sexier than it is practical.)

      Code Monkey like freedom / Code Monkey like peace and justice too
      Code Monkey very nerdy man / With big warm fuzzy bleeding heart
      Code Monkey like you!

      Formerly known as Jyrinx.

      by Code Monkey on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:43:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  SOA is in fact designe for precisely (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        this kind of situation.   Aggregating content is in fact often illegal, or at least puts you under the Sarbanes-Oxley microscope which a lot of IT orgs don't want to deal with if they can avoid it.

        It is an attempt to get highly available APIs for everything you need so you can do your logic with current data on the fly.    It is freaking HARD to actually get real systems to do that, but there often is no other choice and the alternatives all have problems of their own.

  •  So, Obama has the last laugh after he serves up (0+ / 0-)

    a plate of freeze dried humble pie.  Let us see the master at work, as he delivers the GOP from it's misery, and the Progressives of their ownership of the Social Security chip.  Other great news for technology coming up soon.  We need the help of all major human interest groups to weigh in on what to do about the rapidity with which our Earth is undergoing climate change.  There is a new human field called Geo-Engineering  and it deals with the science of the plumbing of Mother Earth and can we effect it like the rapid warming of the atmosphere of Earth so that huge numbers of human beings will not drown as water again conquers the land.  But not the vast desert regions of the Earth, in these places and their adjacent connectors there is so little water that the plant kingdom has abandoned them for the most part.  Shall we think about having the desert bloom, at least just think of it, for in my mind's eye I hope the desert blooms and the fragrant, freshly re-cycled oxygen that plants exhale is given to me for the inhaling.  Plants growing over vast areas of  desert would however  bring unforseeable consequeces, far beyond my mind to  capture here.  

  •  Tell that to (9+ / 0-)
    it's developing an unprecedented national network that connects ALL our biggest national agencies
    the smirky-voiced whiney newsreaders at NPR, who are busily nattering on about oh it's so awful that it hasn't been perfect immediately and it might just collapse and die.

    And wouldn't they just love that, sitting in their hermetically-sealed newsrooms with their regular salaries and health insurance.

    This is the first time in the history of the country that such widespread health care access has been available to the entire population. It was first proposed in the Truman administration, and it's taken this long to get even this minimal program enacted.

    Great Questions of Western Philosophy: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    by Mnemosyne on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 04:55:36 PM PDT

  •  Then why are state sites functioning? (0+ / 0-)

    Your argument is we should not have expected to work because the parameters are to difficult.

    Then why are the state ran websites working?

    A mind like a book, has to be open to function properly.

    by falconer520 on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 06:30:45 PM PDT

    •  Not what I said. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FightersFate, Wee Mama, Lawrence

      You even read my diary? Did yah see the part about communicating with all 50 states? You think Vermont's healthcare site worries about that?

      Furthermore, the states that set up their own exchanges aren't using the national exchange, so that's glaring difference.

      Check out my progressive tshirts & gear: or my hand-drawn reproduction of Rachel's Excelsior Poster from Friends available on cards, stickers, curtains etc.

      by Eileen B on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 06:51:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They are using the same backend... (0+ / 0-)

        You claim the problem is with the integration of all the federal institutions... That integration is working, otherwise the states ran websites wouldn't be working.

        The problem is with the site, not the backend...

        A mind like a book, has to be open to function properly.

        by falconer520 on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 07:17:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No you are wrong... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eileen B, Wee Mama

          there is not just one type of state ran "website"...these are not just "websites" each of these are an actual application which has a database type and language that could be completely unique....Websites are static...this is anything but static. It is said to be the most complex system every built..when it is is going to be considered historic.

          The "website" was running fine...the backend...the thing that connects to all those databases and state run servers and applications in whatever language that one uses...not to mention also to other even more complex systems like the IRS and Social Security.

  •  in a couple years all this will be forgotten... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eileen B, FightersFate, Wee Mama, Lawrence

    and millions of uninsured will be insured...and many others will have better insurance at less cost.

    thanks for the diary.

    We are not broke, we are being robbed...but we can fight back...#KosKatalogue

    by Glen The Plumber on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 09:00:07 PM PDT

  •  yes it's way more than a website (0+ / 0-)

    what's your point?

    Complex? Yes, of course. For over $500 million, it doesn't matter how complicated it is (I know - I design and build huge back-end systems myself), they should have freaking well got the right people to do it, and they should have managed it better than they did, the the people they got should have done a better job.

    It has been &#^#%^&-ed up out of sight, and Obama's legacy is, at best, going to be marred by this cluster&^W#^&%$^. The buck stops with him, and he's responsible for the people he chose in his cabinet and the they are responsible for the choices *THEY made, and so on and so on. All the way down.

    I-N-C-O-M-P-E-T-E-N-C-E   let's call it by its name. From the top all the way down. Everyone in that chain of command had choices to make, and responsibilities to exercise, and in more than one place/level there was massive incompetence.

    Kos' rant? Right on the money. Being a democrat doesn't excuse incompetence.

  •  I am glad exists to bitch about. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Lawrence

    If the naysayers had their way, there would be no ACA. No website. Nothing.

    This diary is a breath of fresh air.

    Really, it is astonishing how brainless people have become about technology. And how much they buy into the concept that if it some technology is not perfect instantly, and I mean instantly, then it is a massive FAIL and people should go to JAIL.

    It took 10 years to get to the moon.

    The IRS started working on filing tax returns by computer from home in
    1990. It took until 2005 for even half of the returns to be filed that way.

    In a year, when a lot of people who got sick get realize that it is only the ACA which is keeping them from being both sick and destitute, they won't give a flying f**k about start up problems with

    The only winning move is not to play. - Joshua

    by FightersFate on Tue Oct 22, 2013 at 05:18:44 AM PDT

  •  Framing to denigrate. (2+ / 0-)

    Pointing to the website glitches make an easy frame for those opposed to the ACA. The implication is of course "if they can't get it right....then the whole program must be a mess." We live in a soundbite world where criticism of  something does not need analytical depth, if it can be negatively impacted by a clever sentence, or brought to disgrace by a phrase. The ACA was never my ideal, but it is preferable to the status quo in healthcare. Those opposed have admitted their fear that Americans will like it and so distract with frames that denigrate it without having to take on substance.

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