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Obamacare Tech Problems Expected On Online Insurance Exchanges

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Nearly 550,000 people in Oregon do not have health insurance, although some are confident that the state’s new online insurance exchange will be able to handle everyone when enrollment under President Obama’s healthcare reform begins on October 1st. Aaron Karjala, the chief information officer at “Cover Oregon” worries, however, about what might happen if the entire population of Oregon -- estimated at 3.9 million -- will log on that day to check out what will be available on the site. Worse yet, he also wonders what will happen if millions of people from other parts of the country start logging on to check out if Oregon’s insurance offerings are better than their own states. It would more than likely cause Cover Oregon to crash in a matter of moments and create an epidemic of frozen screens.

The amount and result could also be multiplied by 49 states and the District of Columbia, all of which will also open health insurance exchanges under Obamacare on the same day. It would easily become a disastrous event online for many people. Obamacare, which is formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, could fail for many reasons, such as participation by too few of the uninsured and a shortage of doctors that can treat those who will be signing up. However, because its core is government run marketplaces that are selling health insurance online, the more likely reason for failure at the opening mark is going to be information technology problems.

Although it is the most expensive ingredient of the exchanges, experts expect bugs, crashes, and errors. In April, Obama predicted that there would be “glitches and bumps” when the exchanges become available to the public. "This is a 1.0 implementation," said Dan Maynard, chief executive of Connecture, a software developer that is providing the shopping and enrollment functions for several states' insurance exchanges. "From an IT perspective, 1.0's come out with a lot of defects. Everyone is waiting for something to go wrong."

Idaho and New Mexico announced this spring that because of the tight timeline and daunting challenges, they would have the federal government be responsible for operating their IT systems instead. "Nothing like this in IT has ever been done to this complexity or scale, and with a timeline that put it behind schedule almost before the ink was dry," said Rick Howard, research director at the technology advisory firm Gartner .Some of the potential for problems will begin instantly as would-be purchasers log onto their state exchange site. They will entire their name, birth date, address, and other identifying information, which will lead to the first IT issue: is this person actually the individual that they are claiming to be? In order to verify it, credit bureau Experian will be checking the answers against external databases which include information from banks, utility companies, and other history. The customer would be asked which of several addresses they used to live at, if their car has one of the license plates listed, or what color their old car was.