Product Launch Analysis: Affordable Care Act 1.0


Product Launch Analysis: Affordable Care Act 1.0

Launch Rating: One star graphic

For those of my friends in technology companies you know exactly what would happen to us if we were responsible for the planning and execution of the ACA 1.0 launch. It would be short and unceremonious. Turn over your building keys, ID badge, gather your possessions, adios.

Let’s put politics aside and look at the launch purely from an execution point of view; completely non-partisan. To do that we need to find dimensions that can keep us honest. Remember they’ve had over four (4) years to plan, evaluate contingencies, and consider alternatives.

Ability to Execute

We are understandably sympathetic to those who try their best and work hard, but when the stakes are as high as ACA 1.0 an ability to deliver results matters the most, especially with a critical market segment that can make or break the entire program.


The scope, scale, and complexity out-of-the-gate for the online application is way beyond the teams assembled. We’re talking about an application that could be simultaneously used by tens of millions of people. Users (citizens) want it to be bulletproof and secure. No doubt the technology staff designing and building the healthcare exchanges understood the complexity at the conceptual level but in day-to-day practice they lacked the requisite expertise.

Companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, Netflix, and Amazon have the experience to deliver large-scale applications and learned over many years by trial and error how to get it right. This includes the technical infrastructure to ensure it runs smoothly and securely, as well as a user interface that is friendly and intuitive. State and federal government teams, while well meaning, lack the commercial design, build, delivery, and customer support experience of the aforementioned tech giants.

Many consumers are technology savvy and demand that apps work right the first time, especially the most critical market segment: younger, healthier consumers. If the app doesn’t work as advertised they will return it, delete it, or demand a refund. From a market dynamics perspective it’s important to keep in mind that purchasing on the ACA 1.0 exchange is mandatory for many consumers, which means there should be great sensitivity to getting it right the first time.


Promotional programs have been amateurish. Plus it’s impossible to deliver a consistent message when you have a Congress and Executive branch full of stakeholders, so I’m highly empathetic to those who are charged with the go-to-market strategy (assuming there is one). It’s a no-win situation to even attempt to keep the message on point.

With over 4 years to educate the public of the various options and benefits of ACA 1.0 there is absolutely no excuse that can be presented that the market did not know about it or or unfamiliar with its benefits. All indications are that at best a “let’s throw it on the wall and see what sticks” GTM strategy is being followed.

Launch Strategy

If you have a high-risk product launch scenario with something your team has never had experience delivering, you would implement steps to mitigate that risk, especially when your most important measurement of success is getting younger consumers to purchase health insurance on the health insurance exchanges. This is not new territory and there are many good examples to follow.

An important context is in order that relates to overall success of ACA 1.0 and a factor in a launch strategy: participation of younger, healthier consumers. It balances out the insurance risk so insurers are more inclined to participate. It’s an easy assumption that people who need health insurance will participate, so energy should be focused on reaching that critical market segment that is commonly referred to as ‘Invincibles’; many who believe they don’t need health insurance.

Given the complexity of a national healthcare exchange and the risk of failure, the last thing we’d want to do is roll it out to all 50 states at once. That would be suicidal from a technology and customer service standpoint. We would start with a beta program with a handful of willing States that represents a good mix of consumers. Our goal would be to have success early at all levels. We would learn from that experience, make adjustments, then expand with an early adopter program adding a few more States. We could incorporate citizen advisory panels to get feedback to make improvements and solicit testimonials.

Perhaps over a couple of years we would have expanded ACA 1.0 to cover all 50 States (or faster as experience is gained). We might wait to hit the most populous States until we had the confidence to pull it off.

The launch strategy for ACA 1.0 appears to be everything for everybody all at once. The communication strategy has been disjointed at best. They have not created a compelling reason for younger, healthier consumers to camp outside on the sidewalk for days waiting for the health insurance exchanges to open.

Hype/Expectation Setting

Without a doubt the expectations for ACA 1.0 is has been set very, very high. This may very well be the most problematic issue of all. If ACA 1.0 were launched by a private company within the United States there would be wall-to-wall law suits.

Truth in advertising laws alone would shut ACA 1.0 down and drag on for years. There are too many incriminating statements that have been made publicly. The evidence is overwhelming.

Marketers are often criticized for over-hyping their products in the hopes of getting attention for subpar products. When customers buy these products and find out they don’t meet the expectation that has been set, they get angry and take action by returning the products and demanding refunds.

Promotional Strategy

I’m not sure there is one. Speaking at a college makes little sense, at least to me. Why would you hype up a bunch of students who are likely on their parent’s health insurance policy? The most important market segment is the younger, healthier consumers and that should have been the thrust of the promotional strategy; reach these consumers where they hang out, get news, tweet, YouTube, watch TV, attend sporting events, and listen to music (South by Southwest anyone?). Assuming they will signup because they are required is arrogant and risky. They needed to get way out in front of it to ensure a successful launch, but they didn’t.

They have not created a compelling reason for younger, healthier consumers to camp outside on the sidewalk for days waiting for the health insurance exchanges to open. This is arguably the key to the long-term success of ACA 1.0. And even if they did camp out for days, the frustration of poor response time, inadequate customer support, and general lack of operational readiness would have turned them off immediately.

HHS as a Technology Company

So if Health and Human Services were a technology company, what would the market be saying about them the day after the launch?

Industry press – “Promising, but off to a rocky start. If HHS can take corrective action they may have a shot at making it work. Short of that it’s down for the count.”

Industry analysts – “Poorly planned and executed, we highly doubt HHS have the ability to correct the flaws in ACA 1.0 without significant investment in people, technology. This will take time, unfortunately time we don’t believe HHS have on their side.”

Company CEO – “We couldn’t be happier with the results of the introduction of ACA 1.0. Like any large enterprise rollout you have to expect some glitches, but we will work through those quickly and deliver a hot fix in a few days.”

Competitors – “Do you really want to risk your health insurance to that extent? Seems scary to me. Let me show you a more rational approach, with significantly less risk.”

Launch Rating: One star graphic

How would you rate the launch of ACA 1.0? Was I too kind? Too harsh?

Let me know, but be forewarned. I didn’t intend for this post to be a political statement and won’t publish politically oriented comments. I hope you understand.

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