The Affordable Care Act has been a hot-button topic discussed frequently over the past year. With the introduction of the law’s policies came the launch of the new healthcare.gov website. Unfortunately, the site was not a complete success.
While many citizens flooded the site, they were unable to gain much knowledge on how the plans would benefit them directly. The site, notoriously known for not being user friendly and unable to sustain the web traffic, had error pages lighting up site users’ screens. The error pages prompted the creation of an alternative site, its purpose to showcase information on current health care policies people can purchase.
A trio of 20-year-old programmers in San Francisco completed the site in just three days. George Kalogeropoulos, Ning Liang and Michael Wasser had each attempted to use the government site before but said they found it difficult to decipher.
“Our generation is mentally capable of creating something worthwhile that can help people,” David Meredith, freshman in mechanical engineering, said. “These guys did a good thing and did something for others and made a change in healthcare easier for the public to understand.”
The site, thehealthsherpa.com, allows consumers to research the plans available in their area. All one has to do is type in their zip code and every health plan by every insurance company within their region is available for view. Results can be refined by one’s age, plan type and subsidy.
“It is definitely impressive that they created a site so quickly, but by no means impossible,” Blade Mages, creative director for Manhattan’s 502 Media Group, said. “When you do big projects like this there are so many hands involved and so many groups to please. The biggest thing is with a small group of people [putting in input about the site] you can get things done faster. With the government you have ‘my boss’ boss said do this.’ There are a lot of people things have to go through.”
The three men did not create the site in association with any political party, lobby group or company.
Myron A. Calhoun, emeritus engineering professor, said he was not at all surprised by the speed that the trio created the website with because software for building such websites is commonly available.
“The most difficult part of their building a website was probably finding all the data in the first place,” Calhoun said. “The second most difficult part was probably ‘massaging’ the data from its government form into something that we mere mortals could read and understand.”
Additionally, Calhoun said the third most difficult part might have been finding a “host”computer on which to run their website.
While the site has allowed consumers to view their possible plans with less hassle, it was created to be used as tool for research as plans can now only be purchased through the healthcare.gov site.
“The interesting thing about the amateur site is that it does not have as many regulations to meet as the government version, so they were a little more free to do it their way,” Patrick Hutfless, freshman in computer science, said. “What people do not understand is that there are regulations and security requirements that the government has to stick to that make development very difficult. Couple that with the fact that this amateur site is lesser known, and therefore does not have to handle as much traffic as the government version, and it becomes obvious that the amateur site was an easier project.”
There are some regulations that require data to be transmitted in secure ways that are not always the most efficient. Essentially, functionality is sacrificed for security when working with government sites.
Hutfless said he felt it made sense that someone else would be able to do a better job outside of the government requirements.
Micah Daniels, freshman in computer science, said that the fact that such an important site, one that would offer medical information during a time when health care was such a debated topic, should have ran more smoothly from the get go.
“Obviously [there is a] need to reevaluate the personnel working for the government, or hire a firm to create the site,” Daniels said.
Currently, the government site is working reasonably well for the first time since its launch, according to federal health officials. It is still not known if it will efficiently be running by the day the law takes effect on Jan. 1. However, millions of Americans are expected to use the site to purchase their plans prior the deadline.