Here’s how Obama’s first Chief Technology Officer defends the HealthCare.gov launch

October 18, 2013

President Barack Obama's former Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)

It's no secret that the launch of HealthCare.gov was plagued with problems.

But President Obama's first Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra defended the launch on Wednesday night, saying "glitches happen." Chopra left the White House in 2012 to launch an unsuccessful campaign to become the lieutenant governor of Virginia. He made the comments about the HealthCare.gov launch during a discussion with Thomas Friedman at an Aspen Institute "Socrates Salon".

When Friedman asked what happened to HealthCare.gov, Chopra admitted not everything had gone right, but asked the audience to "put it in the context that glitches happen." He then compared the issues to problems in commercial products, saying that it was like when United and Continental Airlines needed time after their merger to integrate their reservations systems, or how  Twitter's fail whale made a lot of appearances during the 2010 FIFA World Cup as the service became overwhelmed.

The same thing happened with HealthCare.gov, he said: "They anticipated about 60,000 people setting up an account at the exact same time -- they got about 250,000 people. That overwhelmed the system." But, he argued, the government was doing a good job responding to the problem and was taking steps to getting it running smoothly, although it would be "a little bit longer."

However, he believes that the problems were actually a sign of the popularity of the Affordable Care Act initiative. "This means that the American people are hungry for this product," he said.

"I ask entrepreneurs this question: Would you rather launch your product and have no one show up, or have overwhelming demand" that they could then meet, he said.

He also argued that while the process for setting up accounts was having problems, "the piece everybody was focused on not working," the data hub connecting the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and Homeland Security, was functional.

However, some members of Congress have raised concerns about the security of the data hub.  Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) sent a letter to the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services requesting information about the security of the system and its authority to operate earlier this week.

And there's reason to believe that the issues with the health-care exchanges go beyond gridlock caused by too many applicants at once.  Insurers report they sometimes can't tell who exactly the new customers signing up through the exchange are, due to "confusing and duplicative" reports sent to the companies by the exchanges' computer system. But as my colleague Sarah Kliff has noted, the last time the U.S. government tried to do a major Internet based expansion of health care, it too had a pretty bumpy start.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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