Accelerating how agencies move from zero code to launch

Agency

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

Launching government websites is often thought to be a slow process. Compliance, security, branding, documentation, and reliability all take time and resources. Due to the perception of long product development cycles, agencies often don’t see the worth in smaller website projects.

The task

On behalf of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Ad Hoc launched a site for insurance issuers to validate drug and provider coverage data on HealthCare.gov. We went from zero lines of code to a live minimum viable product (MVP) serving pilot users in under a month.

What we did

When people shop for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov, more than a quarter of API traffic is from people trying to determine if a plan covers their doctors and medication. This coverage data changes constantly, so to meet the demand, Ad Hoc helped CMS develop a process where insurance companies host files detailing the drugs and providers their insurance plans cover, and CMS gathers the information.

We also wanted a consolidated home at CMS for all the tools we’ve developed that insurance companies use to validate their files or look up information a provider has on HealthCare.gov. This home needed to be transparent, branded, and one the government would own, endorse, and build upon. With CMS’s support, we researched, designed, and built an official government portal for issuers to validate documents, look up coverage information in the HealthCare.gov marketplace, and answer common questions about the coverage data process.

What we learned

Invest in foundational systems

An easy-to-augment baseline of engineering, design, and accreditation systems makes it much faster to build an MVP. Rather than launch a new site and domain, we integrated with the CMS Developer Portal: a site devoted to third parties that integrate with government data and services. Aligning logical groups of applications enables apps to share accreditations and security boundaries and makes it easier for agencies to track, manage, and ship with confidence.

Additionally, the CMS Design System gave us a consistent visual pattern that was easy to integrate with and fast to build upon. This consistency helps people know it’s a government service and helps agencies feel comfortable launching new sites that match their branding.

Build simply – and don’t launch servers if you don’t have to

The backend route we chose cut out months of security audits and operational engineering that could have extended the launch beyond Open Enrollment. We also performed a lot of space-time tradeoff analysis of data structures for making tools work. Digital services designed for a person to use for research can be done this way — pre-storing information people need and hosting it as static documents, rather than building dynamic APIs and ensuring they’re always available. This creates an easier path to launch, and the site is more secure, reliable, and easy to maintain.

Be credible and trustworthy

Quick launches happen when people trust your judgment, and you have a track record of transparency and launching things that work. Our team had support from our partners to launch because we design for stability, and our delivery teams are trusted to do things well.

The results

By creating an integrated product with a small footprint, we were able to quickly launch a tool that CMS can use to help insurance issuers at a critical time of the year: preparing for HealthCare.gov’s Open Enrollment. We had the flexibility to iterate and change the tool based on user feedback since we didn’t have to worry about the mechanics of launching it. We also established a straightforward, lightweight pattern for building tools that help our customers, which we hope to continue using to launch new websites and applications in the future.

Put our expertise to work for your agency

Interested in bringing proven methods to your agency to elevate your digital services?

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