How Much Is Oracle to Blame for Healthcare IT Woes?

 

Oregon’s healthcare exchange: a Website that asks you to use pen and paper.

The state of Oregon blames Oracle for the failures of its online health exchange, according to a new piece on NPR’s All Tech Considered blog. The health-insurance site still doesn’t fully work as intended, with many customers forced to download and fill out paper applications rather than sign up online; Oracle has reportedly informed the state that it will sort out the bulk of technical issues by December 16, a day after those paper applications are due.

“It is the most maddening and frustrating position to be in, absolutely,” Liz Baxter, chairwoman of the board for the online exchange, told NPR. “We have spent a lot of money to get something done—to get it done well—to serve the people in our state, and it is maddening that we can’t seem to get over this last hump.” Oregon state officials insist that, despite payments of $43 million, Oracle missed multiple deadlines in the months leading up to the health exchange’s bungled launch.

This isn’t the first time Oracle’s name has circulated in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act’s digital drama. In November, USA Today published a piece suggesting that “communication breakdowns” with Oracle Identity Manager had led to “bottlenecks” in the registration process for Healthcare.gov, the federal online health exchange, which in turn prevented some users from signing up for healthcare.

Oracle hasn’t yet responded to Slashdot’s request for comment.

As with its rivals, Oracle has invested quite a bit in the burgeoning field of healthcare IT—in addition to standard-issue projects such as healthcare analytics, it’s also pursued ingestible sensors and other, more experimental initiatives. Oracle also has extensive experience in building IT infrastructure, and aggressively pursues government contracts—all of which explains its presence as a contractor for Healthcare.gov and the various state exchanges.

But a single contractor doesn’t lie at the root of the federal Healthcare.gov’s spectacular debacle: despite months of preparations, large sections of the site remained unfinished on launch day, and the completed parts crashed as soon as users began entering the site. According to The New York Times, the Medicare agency tasked with overseeing the project failed to adequately test, much less integrate, the site’s complex elements ahead of launch day.

Although Healthcare.gov made its debut Oct. 1, it took until Dec. 1 for the Website to actually work well for a majority of users, and that was only possible thanks to a massive “tech surge” of private contractors; many repairs to the back end of the site, which feeds signup information to insurers, still remain. (The Obama administration claims that the site can now support 50,000 users simultaneously, and 800,000 visits a day.) Sources within the federal government all seem to agree that this was a failure of management, not software; and at least in the instance of the federal Website, Oracle wasn’t tasked with building the majority of the interlinked systems, nor overseeing their implementation. (Much of that construction was handed with CGI Federal, which is currently engaged in a very loud blame-game with various federal officials.)

Oracle could find itself the target of much more blame in the Oregon case, where it was reportedly the sole contractor and overseer. But whether that’ll affect the company’s reputation—much less its future prospects—remains to be seen.

 

Image: NorGal/Shutterstock.com

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