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Healthcare.org fiasco all but ignoring the digital divide
October 29, 2013 - Art Smith
The roll out of the website for the Affordable Care Act, healthcare.gov, has by most measures been a disaster.
I’m not surprised.
This is a big, complicated website with a lot of moving pieces. People have grown accustomed to websites simply working. Most sites have grown from the simpler sites they have replaced. As a site grows the developer has chances to not only fix minor issues, but also to tailor the site to how users actually interact with the site.
Most mature sites have undergone many versions on the way to what they are today, each one fixing issues that troubled the older ones.
Healthcare.gov didn’t have any history. Instead it had a lot of different contractors putting their own pieces together. A lot of websites are the combination of several different pieces of programming that must work together for them to work.
The issue is even though something hypothetically should work, it may in practice, fail.
Which, as the world knows, healthcare.gov did.
A lack of time for pre-launch testing was reported to be the biggest issue. The contractors are pointing fingers at government officials; the officials are blaming the contractors. In truth it’s likely a little bit of both. Unfortunately careers likely will end over the fiasco, all of which could have been prevented with more testing. A beta period prior to the roll-out would have allowed issues to be caught and fixed before the site got crushed under the weight of a nation logging in all at once.
What has shocked me most about the rollout is the dependency of the system to depend so strongly on a website at all.
The very group that can benefit the most from the Affordable Care Act is likely to be the ones that either lack access to the Internet or lack the knowledge to use it.
The Digital Divide in the United States is a very real problem. People who have access to the Internet have access to the wealth of information available on it. Those who lack access are left out.
A recent Pew study indicted 30 percent of American do not have a broadband Internet connection in their home and 20 percent have no Internet at all. Less than half of seniors have high speed Internet, and just 54 percent of those making less than $30,000 have it. It’s expensive, and many people simply can’t afford it.
Therefore the whole issue of not being able to sign up for health care online was a non-issue with millions of Americans. For this group, their only option was to turn to more “traditional” methods. You can sign up by phone and by paper, a fact that wasn’t promoted very well early in the sign-up crisis.
People who are connected assume everyone is. They are not.
The same Pew study indicated only 37 percent of people without a high school diploma are connected.
One of the pillars of website planning is determining who is your audience, perhaps the federal government should have read the Pew study before throwing so many resources at the massive healthcare.org site. Most people don’t file their taxes on line, why did the government expect them to sign up for health care.