I was rambling over on Twitter this morning, and stumbled upon a question that needs to be answered.
Is the debacle that is the website Healthcare.gov possibly the most expensive website creation of all time?
The question is a complicated one.
First, you have to eliminate all ‘intranet’ systems; in other words, platforms that were built only for internal use. Systems such as those built at the NSA and CIA probably cost more, but we would never know because such information is top-secret. Additionally, they have security requirements that nobody else would ever have.
Second, how much did Healthcare.gov actually cost to create? Originally the website had $93 million budgeted. That number has clearly ballooned, and the most common number used today is $634 million. That number may be overstating the reality. Based on this website accounting government spending, the actual number may be closer to $463 million that was actually spent after the ACA became law. Still, that is an astronomical amount.
It is very difficult to compare this to the private sector, but let us try. From Digital Trends:
Facebook, which received its first investment in June 2004, operated for a full six years before surpassing the $600 million mark in June 2010. Twitter, created in 2006, managed to get by with only $360.17 million in total funding until a $400 million boost in 2011. Instagram ginned up just $57.5 million in funding before Facebook bought it for (a staggering) $1 billion last year. And LinkedIn and Spotify, meanwhile, have only raised, respectively, $200 million and $288 million.
If you want to compare to other government health care sites around the world, the United Kingdom’s National Healthcare Service site cost around £21m….still a fraction of the Obamacare site.
Of course, like most things in the Federal Government, we will never really know what it costs. Once you build a black hole in government, it sucks up material and costs without any discretion. But to claim that Healthcare.gov, a site that in some respects cannot even create user passwords and has barely been able to complete even a small percentage of its total tasks so far, is among the most expensive web portals in internet history is probably not unreasonable.