New Healthcare.gov is Open, CMS-Free

By Dave Cole on Mar 12 2013

Update: Read our post on the June launch of healthcare.gov, or listen to a podcast on our work developing the new healthcare.gov and how CMS-free websites are a great fit for federal websites.

At a South by Southwest event this weekend, Department of Heath and Human Services CTO Bryan Sivak outlined a new vision for healthcare.gov. As the primary interface for the public to learn about and shop for health insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace, healthcare.gov will relaunch this June with a completely rethought design and architecture.

The new healthcare.gov follows our CMS-free philosophy. It will be a completely static website, generated by Jekyll, moving away from content management systems, which Bryan describes as "complicated to configure, complicated to setup, and add unnecessary overhead." Website generators like Jekyll work by combining template files with content and rendering them to static html pages. They provide the best balance between content creation and editing flexibility, serving an incredibly fast and reliable website.

The code for the website will be open in two important ways. First, Bryan pledged, "everything we do will be published on GitHub," meaning the entire code-base will be available for reuse. This is incredibly valuable because some states will set up their own state-based health insurance marketplaces. They can easily check out and build upon the work being done at the federal level. GitHub is the new standard for sharing and collaborating on all sorts of projects, from city geographic data and laws to home renovation projects and even wedding planning, as well as traditional software projects.

Moreover, all content will be available through a JSON API, for even simpler reusability. Other government or private sector websites will be able to use the API to embed content from healthcare.gov. As official content gets updated on healthcare.gov, the updates will reflect through the API on all other websites. The White House has taken the lead in defining clear best practices for web APIs.

Healthcare.gov content editors will use an improved Prose.io to create and manage content across the site. We're working with HHS to determine priorities for Prose, including better previewing, a refined user interface, and a user-friendly metadata editor. The enhancements will roll out over the next few months leading up to the relaunch of healthcare.gov.

Eschewing the complexity of a content management system frees time to invest in a better design and content experience, as well as greatly simplifies the maintenance overhead of running a website. We estimate the cms-free healthcare.gov will require approximately 30 less servers than current cms-based implementations in the department. That's because no matter how many visits the website gets, we only require one server to pre-generate the website's content and push it to a content distribution network for public access.

We're excited to partner with the HHS team to offer strategic support for a completely new and open source healthcare.gov. And as employees of a small business, we can't wait to use the new health insurance marketplace at the beginning of next year to access more affordable health insurance options.

We'll post more updates over the next few months as this project develops.

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