Up To 40% Of Federal Exchange Website Still Unbuilt


As the November 30th deadline for fully functionality of Healthcare.gov fast approaches, we learned earlier this week that a significant portion of the underlying structure of the website itself remains completely unfinished:

Today, at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chao stated that “30 to 40 percent” of the federal exchange had not yet been built—despite the fact that the site was launched seven weeks ago.

The revelation came out of questioning of Mr. Chao by Rep. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.). Gardner was trying to figure out how much of the IT infrastructure around the federal insurance exchange had been completed. “Well, how much do we have to build today, still? What do we need to build? 50 percent? 40 percent? 30 percent?” Chao replied, “I think it’s just an approximation—we’re probably sitting between 60 and 70 percent because we still have to build…”

Gardner replied, incredulously, “Wait, 60 or 70 percent that needs to be built, still?” Chao did not contradict Gardner, adding, “because we still have to build the payment systems to make payments to insurers in January.”

Gardner asked a third time: “Let me get this correct. 60 to 70 percent of healthcare.gov still needs to be built?” Chao: “It’s not really about healthcare.gov; it’s the federally-faciliated marketplace…the on-line application, verification, determination, plan [comparison shopping], getting enrolled, generating the enrollment transaction—that’s 100 percent there.”

Gardner, a fourth time: “But the entire system is 60 to 70 percent away from being complete.” Chao: “There’s the back office systems, the accounting systems, the payment systems…they still need to be done.”

Sarah Kliff explains why this is a problem, although not necessarily an immediate one:

When someone does shop with a subsidy, the federal government is on the hook to pay part of their premium to the health insurance plan. Medicare deputy chief information officer Henry Chao testified before Congress today – and Bataille confirmed – that the system that will send those subsidies has not yet been created.

“My understanding of the system is we do not need that online until the middle of January, given how the payment schedule works,” she said. “It’s a back end system necessary to process information directly to issuers.”

In other words: Subsidies don’t start going out the door until 2014, so there is no need for the system to exist right now. Whether it exists in January 2014–that’s one area where we’ll have to wait and see.

The obvious question, of course, is why we’re sitting here some 45 days away when this part of the system needs to be functional and it still hasn’t been built yet. The pattern of bad project management on the part of HHS and CMS that arguably led to the problems that began when the site went live on October 1st seems to be continuing, and yet still nobody is being held responsible.


FILED UNDER: Healthcare Policy, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. anjin-san says:

    The website does appear to be an epic screwup.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    In the meantime…if anyone is interested in actual policy and not just mindless status checks on a website (which are two days old anyway):
    Health Care spending is rising at the lowest rate in history…which was the primary policy goals of Obamacare…not website design.
    Now this isn’t to say that Obamacare is solely responsible…but;

    “…the majority of experts now believe Obamacare is at least partly responsible for the slowdown. They think it is encouraging permanent, structural changes in medical care—the kind that will generate more and more savings over time…”


  3. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    which was ONE OF the primary policy goals of Obamacare

  4. CB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    No doubt, but its not just a mindless status check. Without a functioning website, the policy doesnt mean a whole lot. Not to say the sky is falling, but I’d keep in mind just how widespread the issues are, and just how negative the repercussions will be if they dont get fixed. Public policy doesnt mean much if the public loses faith.

  5. stonetools says:

    I think we see Doug’s method is here, which is to report ( and tweet) NOTHING but bad news about the ACA. I’m beginning to wonder whether Doug is coordinating with Michelle Malkin and the Daily Caller now. So let me report what apparently will never be reported on this site-good news about the ACA.

    WASHINGTON — Despite the disastrous rollout of the federal government’s healthcare website, enrollment is surging in many states as tens of thousands of consumers sign up for insurance plans made available by President Obama’s health law.

    A number of states that use their own systems, including California, are on track to hit enrollment targets for 2014 because of a sharp increase in November, according to state officials.

    “What we are seeing is incredible momentum,” said Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the nation’s largest state insurance marketplace, which accounted for a third of all enrollments nationally in October. California — which enrolled about 31,000 people in health plans last month — nearly doubled that in the first two weeks of this month.

    Several other states, including Connecticut and Kentucky, are outpacing their enrollment estimates, even as states that depend on the federal website lag far behind. In Minnesota, enrollment in the second half of October ran at triple the rate of the first half, officials said. Washington state is also on track to easily exceed its October enrollment figure, officials said.

    And about all those cancellations?

    About 15 million people currently purchase health insurance on their own, using the individual market. And about 70 percent of them — about 10.8 million people — will qualify for the financial help buying coverage under the health-care law, according to a new study out Thursday from Families USA.

    Their analysis suggests that many Americans receiving cancellation notices would receive assistance through the health overhaul, either by qualifying for subsidies to purchase a private plan or through Medicaid, the public program that serves low-income Americans.

    Now this doesn’t mean “its roses, roses all the way.” (Get the literary allusion?).They still have to finish fixing and building out its website. But maybe the ACApocalypse won’t happen.

  6. stonetools says:

    OT, but also likely to be unreported here-apparently, hippie socialism is working in California:

    The state is on track to end the current fiscal year next June with a reserve of $2.4 billion, more than twice the original estimate of $1.1 billion, thanks to higher-than-expected tax revenue, the report said. California’s school funding formula is also expected to send $3.1 billion more to schools.

    By 2020, state revenue could be $27.1 billion higher than the latest projections for the current fiscal year, according to the report.

    A Balloon Juice commenter adds:

    And on top of that we expanded abortion access, are signing up ⅓ of the people in the country on the exchanges, issuing drivers licenses to undocumenteds (DREAM kids already qualify for in-state tuition), raising the minimum wage, expanded LGBT rights, and approving new firearm restrictions. Oh, and 25% of our power is from renewables, and our carbon marketplace is working well.

    Basically everything we want Congress to do, we’ve done. And we’ve got revenues flowing to keep it all going.

    Seems that Michael Reynolds and the other Left Coasters won’t have to abandon California for libertarian paradises like Texas and Alabama after all.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    No doubt.
    But it’s an ongoing process.
    The status of it two days ago (the links provided) are meaningless.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Also…there are many work-arounds appearing.

  9. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    We should also bear in mind that the conservative alternative the ACA is still “Nothing.” A balky website and a difficult enrollment process is still better than “Don’t get sick”, which all Doug and the various conservatrolls have to offer.

  10. David M says:


    Yes, but in their defense, “you get nothing!” has less website errors.

  11. stonetools says:

    I wonder if those down voters can present a creditable conservative alternative to the ACA? They’ve had a few years to think it up, so I’m sure they have a detailed plan that until now, they’ve just been too busy to present. So go ahead guys, dazzle me with your brilliance. I’ll be checking back here in a few hours.

  12. David M says:


    Don’t hold your breath.

  13. superdestroyer says:


    However, the webiste being a screw up has zero impact on policy in the U.S. Just like Detroit voters kept electing incompetents no matter what, the U.S. will elect Democrats in the future no matter what. That anything is accomplished will not matter.

  14. anjin-san says:

    @ superdestroyer

    To suggest that a jacked website should affect policy is idiocy. Also keep in mind that GOP rollout of Medicare D was a train wreck. That factoid seems to have gone down the right wing memory hole. Let’s also keep in mind that the private sector bungs things up on a regular basis. Remember Windows Vista?

  15. anjin-san says:

    @ stonetools

    Things are good in the bay area – lots of good jobs, lots of construction. Had to wait 2 months to get someone out to remodel my mother’s bathroom. Of course the middle class squeeze is a big issue, and the food stamp cuts are hurting some of the most vunerable members of our society.

    More good news is with the now healthy state budget, medical dental services are being restored and schools are getting more money.

  16. jmc says:


    I must assume you are both a recent blow-in (or a kid) and financially illiterate. I’ve been around here a couple of decades and can remember when the Bay Area had a well balanced economy with a large cohort of mid income jobs. And a serious manufacturing base, In the last two decades, SF just to take one example, has lost around 40K mid income jobs to be replaced with far fewer “tech gentry” jobs and a lot of low income “servant class” jobs. A pattern that has been replicated across the greater Bay Area. Basically this crash was even worse than the one of the early 90’s and so far I see no real sign of recovery. We’ve got about as far as 1993 by this stage.

    As for the state budget “surplus” its a total sham. If a public company engaged in such blatantly fraudulent accounting gimmicks the principals officers would all be indicted for fraud. If you seriously believe the state has a real surplus then I have some dot com stock you might want to buy. The last time the state had a genuine long term surplus (with proper counter cyclical reserves) was back when Wilson was governor.

  17. Stonetools says:


    So ten hours later, the conservative commenters ( and the OP) have come up with nothing, eh? Reminds me of when I posed a challenge on a creationist web site : present scientific evidence that the earth is only 6000 years old. There were no takers then either, and for the same reason.
    Oh well, I guess down voting is lot easier than rational argument.

  18. george says:


    To suggest that a jacked website should affect policy is idiocy.

    I don’t know, it could be a good precedence. For instance, if in the future some President decides there are imaginary WMD in some country and declares a war, and some military website is down, we might be able to use that to bring the troops home.

  19. george says:


    I think we see Doug’s method is here, which is to report ( and tweet) NOTHING but bad news about the ACA.

    So how often does your local station report traffic accidents compared to streets where everything is going smoothly? Six car pileup on Broadway is likely to make the news, traffic flowing normally on Broadway probably not.

    This seems to be just the normal news process. Three hundred million Americans didn’t kill anyone today, so they’re not news. The few that did kill someone will be news.

  20. rudderpedals says:

    Thing is, it’s signature shoot from the hip snark, appearing to be extremely precise but actually built on the most ambiguous quicksand. As in 40% of what? measured how? Are the design documents 40% incomplete? The coding? What is 40% incomplete? Is the solution to fire 40% of the geeks?

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