Sunday, April 22, 2018
Health

PolitiFact: Huffington Post's Sam Stein says 'no one beta-tested' health insurance marketplace website

The statement

"No one beta-tested" healthcare.gov.

Sam Stein, in comments on MSNBC's Morning Joe

The ruling

The rollout of the Obama administration's health insurance marketplaces website has been so riddled with problems that even journalists from left-leaning media are calling for top officials to be hauled before Congress.

"It seems from all of the reporting, and from what I can gather, that up until very recently they didn't realize how bad this was going to go out," Huffington Post political editor Sam Stein said Monday on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "And no one beta-tested the site, which is almost criminal when you think about it."

The beta-testing line got picked up by conservative outlets such as the National Review and the Blaze, and we wanted to check it out.

There was some testing, it turns out, but likely not beta testing.

Stein directed us to a Washington Examiner report that said officials did not allow testing on the website until just days before it went live Oct. 1.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, described how government officials and contractors proceeded with the Oct. 1 rollout despite a botched crucial test days earlier. They ran a simulation, unsuccessfully, in which a few hundred people tried to log onto the website at the same time. The failure proved an early warning of the bumpy road to come. Officials went forward with the launch, and the website locked up almost immediately when 2,000 users tried step one, the Post reported.

"Beta testing" is a very specific term in the tech world that most professional software goes through before launching. It comes after a product is in an "alpha" phase, or the earliest version of software that is subject to some tests to find any big issues. When a product reaches beta, it is tested by a larger group of people not connected to its development in an effort to gather feedback and make more fixes before a large-scale launch.

Big tech companies like Google sometimes launch products in beta mode, but enterprise and government software vendors don't usually do it that way, said Alexander Howard, former Washington correspondent for tech-centric O'Reilly Media and a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. They stop adding features in the months preceding a launch to "start testing the heck out of it," Howard said.

The development of healthcare.gov has been an entirely different story, he said, with no use of those terms.

"The only thing we have is reporting that says the first testing occurred the last week before it went live, and then it went live," Howard said. "There was testing, but it's not clear that it was in a beta version."

According to published reports, healthcare.gov got additional features quite close to the launch, with no evidence of a consumer-centric test that went outside of the government.

"Even if those tests nominally did occur, they were as good as nonexistent based on the complexity of the project," said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican digital strategist.

We reached out to CMS and CGI Federal, one of the main contractors for the website, but did not hear back. (We suspect they're busy.)

Our ruling

Stein said, "No one beta-tested" healthcare.gov.

While there are reports of limited website testing, Stein specifically referred to beta-testing, which is a phrase that traditionally means certain members of the public were allowed to access the website well before it opened. There's no evidence to suggest that happened, and the federal government isn't talking.

We rate Stein's claim Mostly True.

Katie Sanders, Times staff writer. Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

Comments
Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Public health officials are now telling consumers to avoid all types of romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak linked to the vegetable that has spread to at least 16 states and sickened at least 60 people, including eight inmates at an Alask...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood is expanding its emergency department. The hospital, 7171 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, is spending $17.5 million to add 15 new private treatment rooms, new pediatric rooms and waiting areas, and new technology, acco...
Published: 04/18/18
Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

As she nears death at age 92, former first lady Barbara Bush’s announcement that she is seeking "comfort care" is shining a light — and stirring debate — on what it means to stop trying to fight terminal illness.Bush, the wife of former President Geo...
Published: 04/17/18
Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

When the patient got violent, Dr. Michelle Hidalgo didn’t have time to think. She had to react. The woman was moving strangely and seemed erratic. Hidalgo had to make a tough call — it was time to physically restrain her for everyone’s safety.Then th...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Lung cancer patients live longer with immune therapy

The odds of survival can greatly improve for people with the most common type of lung cancer if, along with the usual chemotherapy, they are also given a drug that activates the immune system, a major new study has shown.The findings should change me...
Published: 04/16/18
Thousands of pounds of prepackaged salad mixes may have been tainted with E. coli, officials say

Thousands of pounds of prepackaged salad mixes may have been tainted with E. coli, officials say

A Pennsylvania food manufacturer is recalling 8, 757 pounds of ready-to-eat salad products following an E. coli outbreak that has spread to several states and sickened dozens of people.Fresh food Manufacturing Co., based in Freedom, Pennsylvania, is ...
Published: 04/15/18
St. Anthony’s Cancer Center installs bell dedicated to survivors

St. Anthony’s Cancer Center installs bell dedicated to survivors

ST. PETERSBURGSister Mary McNally, vice president of mission at St. Anthony’s Hospital, stood in front of a room of cancer survivors to unveil a silver bell surrounded by butterfly stickers mounted to the wall of the Cancer Center lobby. "So often pe...
Published: 04/13/18
Hand dryers could leave your hands dirtier than you think

Hand dryers could leave your hands dirtier than you think

Washing your hands after you use the bathroom is a good idea. But using a public dryer could undo all that hard work, according to a new study.A study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, examined 36 men’s and women’s bat...
Published: 04/13/18
Meek and Mighty Triathlon draws the young (siblings who are 7, 9 and 11) and not so young

Meek and Mighty Triathlon draws the young (siblings who are 7, 9 and 11) and not so young

The annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon has for years attracted elite athletes from around the world, making the St. Petersburg race one of the premier triathlon events in the country. There’s a big incentive to run fast, swim hard and be the best on a bi...
Published: 04/13/18