Richard Ruelas: The website to enroll for insurance under the Affordable Care Act has been plagued with problems since its rollout. Ken Colburn of the Data Doctors is here to talk about this issue. Have they called you at all?
Ken Colburn: No, I'm really low on that tech surge list.
Richard Ruelas: Did you foresee any of this? What are the problems one could imagine, with asking millions and millions of people to fill out an online form? What would you be looking for?
Ken Colburn: If only it was that easy. I don't think we have enough time to cover all of the mistakes and things that occurred. This is the most ambitious technology project the government has ever taken on. I don't think if you brought Google and Amazon and the smartest people in the room, if you had brought those people in from the beginning, I still think there are some major challenges because of the underlying issues with old systems they are trying to tap into.
Richard Ruelas: As opposed to starting an Amazon account, where maybe if you click the wrong button, you get a pair of headphones you don't want, this needs some pretty serious identity verification. It taps into some pretty heavy duty databases on the other end.
Ken Colburn: Correct. Not only are they big heavy-duty databases, they are really old. IRS and Social Security databases- It has to tap into all of these different databases simultaneously, and then come back and give you, you know, some information about your qualifications. It's a very, very complicated process. It's an amazing thing they are trying to do.
Richard Ruelas: So it needs to be this high-tech website built with today's technology, needs to be able to be, in essence, technologically dumbed down to speak to some of these Univac computers?
Ken Colburn: So the website we're all looking at isn't the problem. It's what happens behind the scenes. All the stuff we don't see, but it all ends up in this little tiny file format which is all gobbledy-gook. This file is sent to your insurance company as you're now enrolled in their system. That's another problem, there's a high error rate on this file that gets sent to the insurance companies, which could result in people not getting properly listed, not properly covered. You might have to fight with the insurance company saying I'm covered, no, you're not. That's a major concern right now is that at the end of all of this, they have kind of started to clear the pipes and they are getting people through. But if the data that's generated when you enroll is inaccurate - and when we say alarming numbers, 5%, 6%, 10%, those are huge numbers when you talk about seven million people trying register.
Richard Ruelas: Right, and I guess it’s one thing to have the government talking to its own computers. You're talking now about, are they requiring the insurance companies to have a sort of uniform platform?
Ken Colburn: It gets really technical and I have to be careful with how technical I get. But this 834 transaction standard is kind of a loose standard that they are not required to comply with until sometime in 2014. It's a really crazy mess. So right now, because the volume is so low, they are able to manually go through and rectify these bad data submissions before they put them into their actual insurance database. But some insurance experts are saying it's going to take the insurance industry a year to get this fixed where it's automated and working properly. There's a lot of complexity here.
Richard Ruelas: Could this have been foreseen and remedied? Or we needed to get it out there to see what the glitches and problems were?
Ken Colburn: That's generally not how it works. There’s a saying in the tech industry that you can't have nine women have a baby in a month. That's essentially what's going on here. People that don't understand technology have set parameters and guidelines; we will have this at this time.
Richard Ruelas: I know politics isn't your forte, but this became a political thing. We really don't want to move the date back, so once the date was set it might not have been a technically perfect date.
Ken Colburn: There's no way this was done by a technological standpoint. It could not be a perfect date. I'm not so interested in the political part of the battle. I'm interested in the technology and this very aggressive thing they are trying to do and the way they went about doing it. It’s like have you ever built a 200-story building? No. Let's go ahead and have you be the general contractor. The project was being led by people who really had no business doing that.
Richard Ruelas: Given more time, this could have been remedied. It did not have to be beta-tested.
Ken Colburn: It took Amazon 10 years before we could click and go around with these purchases and that was with one contracter. There are 55 contractors on this that all have a little piece of the puzzle. They are all saying, hey, I did my part. You put the pieces together and they don't fit. Security issue, issue after issue after issue. There's a lot of work to get this done by November 1st.
Richard Ruelas: We're manufacturing the car as it's rolling.
Ken Colburn: It's worse, we're flying the plane and trying to fix it.
Richard Ruelas: Ken Colburn, thanks for joining us, always illuminating.