Here’s why broke down

Federal officials have pointed to overwhelming demand to explain the site's problems. But web developers, other experts and journalists have uncovered more fundamental issues with the design and functioning of the site

For the past two weeks,, the federal government’s new health insurance marketplace, has been bogged down by problems, preventing users (including me) from viewing insurance options and plans on the website.

Federal officials have pointed to overwhelming demand to explain the site’s problems. But web developers, other experts and journalists have uncovered more fundamental issues with the design and functioning of the site.

Here are excerpts from five of the better stories explaining what happened:

Healthcare.Gov’s Flaws Found, Fixes Eyed

By Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky, The Wall Street Journal

Much of the problem stems from a design element that requires users of the federal site, which serves 36 states, to create accounts before shopping for insurance, according to policy and technology experts. The site,, was initially going to include an option to browse before registering, but that tool was delayed, people familiar with the situation said.

The decision to move ahead without that feature proved crucial because, before users can begin shopping for coverage, they must cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors including CGI Group Inc., the developer; Quality Software Services Inc., a UnitedHealth Group Inc. unit; and credit-checker Experian PLC.

If any part of the web of systems fails to work properly, it could lead to a traffic jam blocking most users from the marketplace. That’s just what happened: On Oct. 2, officials identified a bottleneck where those systems intersect at a software component sold by Oracle Corp. that still hasn’t been cleared.

Tech experts wary of more Obamacare glitches

By Brett Norman and Jason Millman, Politico

Some software engineers have suggested that the consumer end of the website, designed by one contractor, is not “talking to” the back end of the website, developed by a different company.

Diagnostic tools in Web browsers have identified coding issues that may be complicating account creation. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the administration is considering an overhaul of the registration system this weekend to allow people to browse health plan options without first creating an account. The paper said the tech experts are focused on a bottleneck where a flood of data meets an Oracle software component involved in identification verification.

From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal

By Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen, The New York Times

Confidential progress reports from the Health and Human Services Department show that senior officials repeatedly expressed doubts that the computer systems for the federal exchange would be ready on time, blaming delayed regulations, a lack of resources and other factors.

Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site,, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.

Some say health-care site’s problems highlight flawed federal IT policies

By Craig Timberg and Lena H. Sun, Washington Post

The U.S. government spends more than $80 billion a year for information-technology services, yet the resulting systems typically take years to build and often are cumbersome when they launch. While the error messages, long waits and other problems with have been spotlighted by the high-profile nature of its launch and unexpectedly heavy demands on the system, such glitches are common, say those who argue for a nimbler procurement system.

They say most government agencies have a shortage of technical staff and long have outsourced most jobs to big contractors that, while skilled in navigating a byzantine procurement system, are not on the cutting edge of developing user-friendly Web sites.

These companies also sometimes fail to communicate effectively with each other as a major project moves ahead. Dozens of private firms had a role in developing the online insurance exchanges at the core of the health-care program and its Web site, working on contracts that collectively were worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a Government Accountability Office report in June.

How The First Internet President Produced The Government’s Biggest, Highest-Stakes Internet Failure

By Alex Howard, Buzzfeed

The debacle is merely the most visible example of how $80 billion spent annually by the federal government on information technology falls far short of delivering the quality or service any private company would expect at a fraction of that cost.


At the heart of the federal IT crisis is a complex system of regulations that rewards contractors that are better at bidding on giant federal contracts than at building software. While the political figures who commission or oversee those contractors are ultimately culpable, the work itself is done by the private sector. That’s not only true of civilian agencies, as the world was reminded when a private contractor for the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, leaked key documents from the government and gave then to the press.

Finally, explore the contractors who worked on and their campaign contributions, courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation.



Pulse Beat

Medical developments from around the world

Use of Stents Linked to Injuries and Fatalities
According to a Bloomberg News article titled “Deaths Linked to Cardiac Stents Rise as Overuse Seen”, authored by Peter Waldman et al, reported on ‘US medicine’s binge on cardiac stents’. In some cases, “overuse, death, injury and fraud have accompanied the devices’ use as a go-to treatment, according to thousands of pages of court documents and regulatory filings, interviews with 37 cardiologists and 33 heart patients or their survivors, and more than a dozen medical studies.”

The article drives home the point I have been making from day one with regard to this business of stents. Andreas Gruentzig showed how plastic balloons could be dilated with pressure across a block in a coronary vessel. He was in Zurich and was unknown. The stents business has become a multi-billion dollar business in the US where there are still some checks & balances. India has no such regulations; audits and deaths are swept under the carpet. Greedy doctors do angioplasty on anyone (that is around 75% of the normal healthy population even among children) who has healthy coronary blocks which pre-condition the myocardium to survive in the unlikely event of a heart attack. No one takes note of my several articles in this area. Now, the theerth, the holy water, comes from the conch.

Mercury Shown To Affect the Endocrine System in Birds
Environmental mercury poisoning is not rare. A study, very carefully planned at the University of Florida in Gainesville, has shown that ibises, birds resembling seagulls, have been affected by small doses of environmental mercury. This study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society. Birds lose their sexual instinct and refuse to mate with females to procreate but prefer mating with males, a behaviour totally absent in these birds hitherto. Mercury could alter their endocrine orchestra.

Obese Patients More Likely To Survive TAVI
Research published online in the American Journal of Cardiology indicated that “overweight and obese elderly patients survived trans catheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) better than their slimmer peers.” Researchers also found that “overweight was associated with a 26% lower likelihood of dying within one year of the procedure compared with normal-weight patients”. I was looking for some advantage for the obese people while the world condemns them for life. Other studies now show that overweight by itself is not a risk for precocious death, if the person is very active all his life. It is laziness and sedentary lifestyle that bode danger.

Vaccination Dangers
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, has been marketed as a preventive measure for cervical cancer. The inventor of the vaccine now thinks that it might not protect girls from cancers. To cap it, according to NaturalNews article, genetically modified DNA strands in this vaccine get tagged on to the aluminium preservative that is added and lasts for years in the blood of the vaccinated victims. Therefore, it is not safe to get blood for transfusion from those who are vaccinated with HPV vaccines!


Coalgate scam: Parakh says PM Manmohan Singh also responsible

Former coal secretary PC Parakh, who is called as an upright, competent and honest officer by several former bureaucrats and activists, said the PM holds highest responsibility as he took final decision to allocate the blocks

In a twist to the coalgate scam, Prakash Chandra (PC) Parakh, former secretary for coal has raised questions over the probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the role played by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in allocation of coal blocks.


Asking the CBI to scrap the probe, the former secretary in an interview to CNN-IBN, said, "In my view, there is no scam. But, if there is a conspiracy, then there are different members in this conspiracy. There is Kumar Mangalam Birla who made the representation, he is one conspirator. I, who examined the case and made a recommendation, I can be another conspirator and the Prime Minister, who as the Coal Minister, took the final decision, is the third conspirator.”


"Dasari Narayan Rao (the then minister of state for coal) must also be questioned in this case as the file had gone through him as well. Since the final decision (to allocate the coal block) was taken by the Prime Minister, his responsibility is the highest (in this case)," Parakh said.


On Tuesday, the CBI registered a first information report (FIR) against Parakh as well as the chairman of Aditya Birla group and Hindalco Industries Ltd.


Several prominent bureaucrats as well activists have called Parakh as an upright, competent and honest officer. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report in August 2012 considered the former secretary as whistleblower. CAG had lauded Parakh for opposing the present system of allocating coal blocks by the screening committee comprising officers of concerned ministries.


EAS Sarma, former secretary to the government of India (GoI) said, "I feel distressed that his motives should be questioned in the allotment of coal blocks. I understand he was the first Coal Secretary to have formally opposed the non-transparent system of first-come-first-served scheme of allotment of coal blocks and recommended a more transparent system of auctioning. Despite his best efforts, he was overruled!"


"It is ironic that honest officers like Parakh should face investigations whereas dishonest politicians, corporates and officials should be let off. This will certainly erode the credibility of the government which has been on the decline anyway," Sarma said.


Even Greenpeace India has lauded the efforts of Parakh. In a statement, it said, "The investigation needs to go well beyond Parakh, to the ministers in charge of the decisions. The repeated delays in the introduction of the auction policy were a result of decisions taken by several ministers of the coal ministry, including the PM who intermittently held charge of the ministry. In fact, Parakh called for the creation of a transparent coal block auction policy, but was apparently over-ruled by other ministers."


VK Srinivasan, former additional secretary, Andhra Pradesh called Parakh as 'a diligent and straight-forward person', who has taken several decisions using his discretion and technical knowledge in relation to industry proposals. "In this case, while we have not had access to the material on record, one must remember that Prakash Parakh is a geologist and he was dealing with a proposal pending for a long time before he took charge as a coal secretary. The real issues are:  whether there can be a techno-economic reason for Aditya Birla Group to get a share in the coal block," Srinivasan said.


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