Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Can Verizon Fix Obamacare's Sign-Up Problems Alone?

An all too common sight on HealthCare.gov -- cryptic error messages with no easy way out. Will Verizon be able to plug all the holes in this floundering design? Source: Author.

The government is off to a rocky start with the sign-up system for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Setting up a robust online framework to get millions of Americans on board with health insurance may have been more than its in-house staff and contractors could handle. To turn the troubled HealthCare.gov site around, the feds reached out to a Dow Jones (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) member with plenty of online experience. Now it's up to Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) to make this essential part of Obamacare actually work.

Verizon was recently called in to fix the troubled sign-up site, according to a report in USA Today. The appointment has not been made official quite yet, but the Obama administration has openly admitted that it needs some high-powered IT help.

What's wrong?
"Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site, while others have received confusing error messages or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion," says an official blog post on the HHS.gov site, a front for the Health and Human Services department. "We are committed to doing better. [Our] team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov."

My own experience with the site confirms the need for tech assistance. HealthCare.gov suffers from confusing design, frustrating procedures, slow response times, and too many errors to list. I changed my password at one point, logged in once with the new credentials, and was then thrown back to the old password again for any future log-ins.

The error my penguin contemplates above is the result of clicking on the "verify identity" link -- a necessary step that currently leads to a nonexistent page.

Verizon is not bad choice for this consulting deal, given the company's wealth of experience in computer networking. The company just hired data security expert Eddie Schwartz from storage giant EMC (NYSE: EMC  ) , and his expertise might come in handy for the HealthCare.gov project as well.

But I do believe that Obama's crew needs experts from fields where Verizon is not known for its prowess.

Calling all the experts
Obama could give Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) a call to help out with the site's user interface. Microsoft would probably have to tap people from its gaming division to get the job done, as the Xbox Kinect shows a far deeper understanding of usability issues than the twice-botched Windows 8 platform does.

To get a better handle on data collection and management, I can't think of a better contractor than IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) . Big Blue has specialized in exactly that kind of work for decades and is currently in the process of diving even deeper into big data.

Put these three Dow companies together, and you might just have the silver bullet to kill Obamacare's biggest threat right now. Verizon smooths out the site's massive networking performance issues, IBM puts together a better data-collection process, and Microsoft's Xbox guys put a user-friendly face on it all.

That's one possible version of how this IT drama needs to play out behind the scenes, sooner rather than later. If nobody can sign up for insurance under the new system, then the whole government shutdown was over a purely academic nonissue in the first place. And I'd like to see my insurance options one of these days, rather than just another error message.

What's really at stake here?
Health care as we know it is about to change, but only if the government can make its sign-up procedures work. Do you know how the changes in the health care law will affect you and your portfolio? If not, we're here to help: The Motley Fool has compiled a special new report filled with "Everything You Need to Know About Obamacare." This report is a free offer from us to help you get educated on this important subject. Please click here to access your free copy.

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