Obamacare runs into IT issues – hey, it’s not just the UK that messes up government IT!

It is a novelty as a Brit to see a major IT system from another government - not the UK - having problems. The UK has had over the years examples of failure  such as the Rural Payments Agency, the national NHS IT system, and now we're watching the Universal Credit system with baited breath - is that building up to be another issue?

But one that has certainly reached crisis point is the Obamaare system in the USA.  The scheme centres on the provision of healthcare insurance for the large group of people who previously didn't have it in the US. But its launch has been hit by the failure of the new IT platform which supports it.

The website through which people could register for insurance and look at their options has proved incapable of handling the demands on the system. And there seem to be some fundamental errors that "anyone who runs a consumer website could have told them" according to various sources. So people have to do a complicated registration process before they can search for options, unlike the process virtually every retail site uses whereby you can browse first.

However, there are now suggestions that there were political or presentational reasons for doing it that way, so people would only see their specific costs after subsidies, hence “disguising” the real cost of the insurance. So politics may be part of the failure, not just IT or programme management screw-ups.

And there seem to be other operational issues too.

When CNN called the government help line, we were told passwords established in the first week of October were no longer valid and new passwords were needed to access the site; the Department of Health and Human Services told us that information was inaccurate”.

And apparently the site has cost $400M! That seems like a lot for something that doesn’t appear to be intrinsically more complex than an insurance company site such as Direct Line or maybe Go Compare. So I suspect when the inevitable inquest takes place, we're going to find some horror stories. We’ll keep an eye on this one certainly.

I risk losing some American friends here, but everything I've heard about US public sector procurement suggests that it is variable in quality but, all in all, it certainly isn't superior to that we see in the better European countries. Too many complex rules, often introduced by lobbyists to help a certain subset of the market, for instance. And when you hear about organisations who aren’t allowed to take price into consideration when choosing certain professional services providers, most buyers this side of the Atlantic will shake their heads in disbelief. (A rule not invented by procurement people, I should emphasise.)

So that's one of the reasons why I'm looking forward to reading - and maybe contributing to - the new US site run by Jason Busch and Censeo Consulting - Public Spend Forum. There's both interesting read across between the USA and Europe on public procurement issues, but enough differences for both parties to learn something. I suspect they will be covering the Obamacare developments in some depth – and another site in the Spend Matters network, Healthcare Matters, made a start here last week.

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