Of all the ways that web performance has come out of the shadows and into mainstream public consciousness, there is no more prevalent example than the HealthCare.gov fiasco of 2013. The Affordable Care Act’s primary means of providing universal health care to the American public encountered problems from the very moment it was launched on October 1, and quickly drew all the worst kind of attention.
In the face of massive public outcry, the site underwent a huge optimization process to fix the myriad of problems plaguing it, ultimately resulting in much better load times for the remainder of its inaugural sign-up period.
As such, when it came time in late 2014 for the 2015 enrollment period to begin, the expectation was that, with a full year to apply optimization techniques, the Department of Health & Human Services would be able to get HealthCare.gov running with strong performance. The hope was that this strong performance would extend throughout the entire Open Enrollment period, which began on November 15 and will continue through February 15.
The process for users to sign up for health coverage obviously begins with the homepage, which has performed admirably so far this year. Despite increasing the page weight by nearly 40 percent from last year, its median webpage load time is under 1.5 seconds from both high-performance Internet backbone and last mile nodes, with availability over 99.7 percent. That sort of performance, with the added page weight, shows that there has been increased attention paid to optimization techniques such as image and text compression, asynchronous loading of elements, and use of CDNs.
From there, the user proceeds to the transaction login page, which involves a multi-step process of actually logging into and out of the site. Here is where HealthCare.gov has seen its biggest improvement since last year. In 2013-14, the median time required for a user to enter their login information was over 18 seconds, and 4.6 seconds to log out. This year, those metrics have gone down to 3.3 and 1.9 seconds, respectively.
Additionally, the availability of the "enter login" page (which end-users need to click through in order to get to the actual point of login) has increased as well, going from just under 84 percent last year to over 94 percent – still not a strength by any means, but a marked improvement.
The final step in the process – the transaction sign-up – has also registered strong performance throughout the current enrollment period, with both the “apply” and “enter information” pages having median webpage load times under two seconds. It’s worth noting that there are numerous third party elements on the “apply” page which push up the median time that it takes the page to completely render (or, the time it takes for all elements on the page to load, including those that may be “under the fold”), to 6.9 seconds. However, this too shows the attention paid to performance optimization, as these extra elements do not affect the end users’ ability to interact with the page.
Overall, it appears that the Department of Health & Human Services should be commended for applying web performance optimization techniques since last year. This has been a great sigh of relief to those who are signing up. Strong performance held up through the initial 2015 sign-up deadline of December 15 (for 2015 plan coverage commencing January 1). We will continue to monitor performance through the next pivotal deadline of February 15, the final day for registering for plans in 2015.