Monmouth professor says Obamacare website developers had nearly impossible task [Asbury Park Press, N.J.]
(Asbury Park Press (NJ) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 24--The Obamacare software developers who were grilled by Congress Thursday had such a tight deadline for such a massive project that they didn't stand much of a chance to create a website that could accommodate millions of health insurance customers, a Monmouth University computer science expert said.
Bill Tepfenhart said the federal government's website, healthcare.gov., had 500 million lines of code -- the equivalent of 10 million pages of a document -- that needed to be perfect.
"There are systems that are comparable, but they were not done in four years and they were not turned on overnight," said Tepfenhart, a professor in the computer science and software engineering department at Monmouth University in West Long Branch.
His comments came as the contractors who developed healthcare.gov testified at a congressional hearing about glitches in the website that have prevented consumers from signing up for health insurance. New Jersey is one of 36 states using the federal health exchange.
The system was billed as a chance for consumers who don't receive health insurance benefits from their employers to compare prices offered by private insurers, figure out if they qualify for a subsidy that would make the policy affordable, and purchase it.
Instead, Shore-area residents have said they can't get much further than logging on and creating a password. Some have tried instead to apply by telephone or with old-fashioned paper applications.
Adding to the stress: The government has said consumers have to buy insurance or pay a fine, under the rules of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Open enrollment lasts until March 31, but consumers wanting health insurance at the beginning of the year need to purchase a policy by Dec. 15.
Tepfenhart said he sympathized with the developers. The software is complicated; it needs to interact with consumers, several other government agencies and dozens of private insurance companies. The deadlines likely were not realistic.
"It probably will be functional at a reasonable level within two months," he said. "They'll still be taxed to identify and hammer away at inefficiencies. But it's a process that takes time. If I'm building a building, I have to wait sometimes for the concrete to dry. There are just things that take time. Five hundred million lines of code, that's an awful lot of stuff to work through to find errors."
Michael L. Diamond; 732-643-4038; mdiamond@njpress
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