A Montreal-based information technology giant has found itself in the middle of an uproar over glitches in the newly-launched Obamacare website, with some pundits ready to blame Canada.
CGI Federal, a division of CGI Group, the world’s sixth-largest IT firm, holds the principal contract to develop and run the federal HealthCare.gov website. The site hosts the health care exchanges where Americans in 36 U.S. states can sign up for subsidized health care. (The remaining states are building their own health care exchanges.)
The U.S. government has paid CGI at least $88 million U.S. to build and support the federal exchange, the Washington Post reports.
But glitches plagued the CGI-built website from the moment it launched Oct. 1.
“Blank boxes where security questions are supposed to appear. Pleas to ‘be patient.’ Error messages galore. Notices that ‘the system is busy right now.’ Web pages timing out before they load. Garbled lines of text riddled with stray question marks,” Reuters reported.
And the glitches had a substantial impact. According to an AP-GfK poll, three-quarters of visitors to the site reported problems signing up.
The Obama administration attributed the issues to overwhelming demand. The federal site received more than 8 million visitors in its first week, the U.S. government said.
But there may be deeper, structural problems with the site, some IT experts say. They say the site’s design is fundamentally flawed, loading too many different files when users carry out certain functions on the site, like creating a new account.
“It’s a bug in the system, a coding problem,” said Jhoti Bansal, CEO of application performance management firm AppDynamics.
“We are spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week working with our client and working with our partners in order to stabilize the enrolment [process] and finish the roll-out of this very complex project,” CGI spokesperson Lorne Gorber told the Globe and Mail.
All the same, the company has come in for criticism in the U.S.
“The (U.S.) government tends to contract with firms that are better at securing contracts than they are at developing web sites,” the U.S. edition of The Huffington Post quipped.
Some observers and pundits who oppose Obamacare see ominous signs in the choice of CGI as the contractor for HealthCare.gov, as the company also has contracts administering public health care systems in Canada.
“The company is deeply embedded in Canada’s single-payer system,” the Washington Examiner reported. “CGI has provided IT services to the Canadian Ministries of Health in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Saskatchewan, as well as to the national health provider, Health Canada.”
CGI “has been a darling of the Obama administration, which since 2009 has bestowed it with $1.4 billion in federal contracts,” the paper stated.
The Globe and Mail notes that one CNBC pundit began a recent segment with the question, “Should we immediately go to war with Canada over the CGI thing?”
No, responded former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the segment. Dean argued technical glitches are to be expected when a complex website like this is launched.
“It happen[ed] in almost every tech roll-out that I’ve seen over a long period of time,” he said.
CGI has benefited greatly from Obamacare. Its stock is up more than 30 per cent over the past year, and has seen its health care revenues grow 90 per cent in that time, the Globe reports.
<a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/cfo/2012/07/23/mcdonalds-cfo-sees-up-to-420m-in-new-health-care-costs/" target="_blank">Peter Bensen, McDonald's chief financial officer</a>, said on a conference call last year that Obamacare will cost the company and its franchisees $140 million to $420 million per year. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/whole-foods-ceo-obamacare-fascism_n_2488029.html" target="_blank">John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, told NPR</a> in January that Obamacare is "like fascism." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/whole-foods-fascism_n_2496603.html" target="_blank">He then told HuffPost Live</a> that he regretted making that comparison. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/papa-johns-obamacare-pizza_n_1752126.html" target="_blank">John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John's</a>, said in August that Obamacare will cost the company $0.11 to $0.14 per pizza. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-h-schnatter/papa-johns-obamacare_b_2166209.html" target="_blank">But he has maintained</a> that Papa John's offers and will continue to offer health insurance to all of its employees. (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Papa John's International/AP Images)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/04/cheesecake-factory-ceo-david-overton-obamacare_n_2236673.html" target="_blank">David Overton, CEO of the Cheesecake Factory, told CBS</a> in December that Obamacare "will be very costly" and "most people will have to [raise prices] or cheapen their product" in response. Dina Barmasse-Gray, the Cheesecake Factory's senior vice president of human resources, said in a statement to The Huffington Post: "We have the highest regard for the wellbeing of our staff members, and have offered health insurance to our staff members who work at least 25 hours per week for many years. Because of our long history of providing health benefits, and based on our current analysis of the new requirements, we do not believe the Affordable Health Care Act will have a material impact on us."
<a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324392804578358540464713464.html" target="_blank">Boeing lobbied unsuccessfully</a> against a new Obamacare fee, according to the Wall Street Journal. And it is generally concerned about Obamacare's costs. "Boeing agrees with the intent of the Affordability Care Act – to provide increased access to coverage, to improve quality, and in the long run, to help manage the overall cost of the health care system," Boeing spokesman Joseph Tedino said in a statement provided to The Huffington Post in March. "However, while the details and implications of the ACA continue to emerge, the net financial impact to Boeing since the inception of law and for the foreseeable future is negative." (Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)
CKE (Owner Of Hardee's)
<a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-09-21/hardee-s-owner-ceo-says-2012-ipo-unlikely-as-costs-rise" target="_blank">Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE, told</a> Bloomberg Businessweek last year that he plans to respond to Obamacare by selling cheaper meats and hiring more part-time workers. <a href="http://www.newsmax.com/RonaldKessler/Hardee-s-CEO-Obamacare-Puzder/2012/09/20/id/456919" target="_blank">He also told Newsmax</a> he plans to build fewer restaurants in response. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/jimmy-johns-ceo-obamacare_n_2137679.html" target="_blank">Jimmy John's CEO Jimmy John Liautaud told Fox News</a> last year that he plans to cut his workers' hours in order to avoid having to offer them health insurance under Obamacare. "We have to bring them down to 28 hours [per week]," he said. "There's no other way we can survive it."