HealthCare.gov gets a last-minute cloud storage boost

An expected spike in demand during open enrollment could have overwhelmed existing capacity of the health insurance-purchasing website, threatening a replay of its botched 2013 launch.

screen capture of HealthCare.gov site

HealthCare.gov is getting a 100 terabyte cloud storage boost to handle demand during the current open enrollment season, according to contracting documents posted Dec. 1 on the FedBizOpps website.

Contractor Verizon Terremark is being tapped for a $1.8 million out-of-scope modification to its existing cloud hosting deal for the Federally Facilitated Marketplace, the insurance plan shopping site used to purchase and renew coverage, because the expected spike in demand threatened to overwhelm existing capacity. The modification includes the storage space and accompanying licenses.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services became aware of the storage shortfall on Oct. 19, less than a month before the start of the second open enrollment season under the 2010 health care law.

"Performance testing and analysis of the additional required support of the on-boarding users revealed that current storage is not sufficient to sustain operations through open enrollment," according to the contracting documents.

Consumers who want coverage effective Jan. 1, 2015, have to have their applications or renewals in by Dec. 15 of this year. Open enrollment season closes for all users on Feb. 15, 2015. There was "insufficient time" to hold a round of competitive bidding for the storage addition and be ready for the open enrollment period, per the documents. In any case, Terremark is the cloud host for the Federally Facilitated Marketplace and it would be "untenable" to have a rival cloud service providing services inside a Terremark facility.

The second year of insurance shopping under the health care law poses special demands, according to CMS, because of the requirement to store data on new enrollment notices and renewed policies.

"CMS could not have predicted this storage shortfall. This program is in its infancy and CMS has no historical evidence upon which to base systems performance parameters," the documents state. Not putting additional capacity in place would result in loss of insurance enrollment data, system outages, and slow response times -- essentially a replay of the problem-plagued launch of HealthCare.gov in October 2013.

The technology supporting the site appears to be running smoothly in the early days of open enrollment. More than 3.7 million users visited HealthCare.gov during the first week, according to data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, and more than 460,000 have selected plans for coverage. Of those selecting plans, 52 percent are current policyholders renewing coverage, and 48 percent are new to the marketplace, according to HHS.

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