Essay

Obamacare, healthcare.gov, and how government software gets made

It’s been in the news lately: the healthcare.gov site, a component of the Affordable Care Act, fell flat on its face at launch. It was unable to handle the crush of people seeking health-insurance information. I have empathy for the people who built the site, because I’ve built government software before and it was way harder than it needed to be. Here’s my story, at my software-development blog.

Jim Grey

By Jim Grey (about)

I was not surprised when I heard that the Obamacare Web site, healthcare.gov, crashed and burned right out of the gate.

But I was disappointed. Regardless of what I think of the Affordable Care Act, it’s the law. I wanted its implementation, including healthcare.gov, to go well.

Still, I wasn’t surprised because I know how government software gets made.

obamacare2Several years ago I worked in middle management for a company that built a government Web application related to health-care customer service. I was in charge of testing it to make sure it worked. It is probably not going out on a limb to say that the people who built healthcare.gov experienced many of the same kinds of things I experienced on that project.

Let me be plain up front: I was a poor fit for government software development. I was too free-wheeling and entrepreneurial for…

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