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Is reporting on Healthcare.gov's problems part of the problem?


The rollout of the Obama administration’s health insurance marketplace website has been so roiled with problems -- from a pricing glitch, to flawed data, to widespread log-in fails -- that even journalists from left-leaning media are calling for top officials to be hauled before Congress, our friends at PolitiFact report. One of those journalists is Huffington Post's Sam Stein, who told MSNBC "Morning Joe" viewers that "Healthcare.gov launched Oct. 1 without beta testing."

While faulting Stein for carelessness -- a beta test was conducted the week before lunch according to an anonymous source -- PolitiFact rates the statement "Mostly true."

But mostly true can also be mostly irresponsible. With the Obama administration keeping the Healthcare.gov launch problems airtight to its vest, journalists have had to report on the healthcare site's development using anonymous sources whose agendas we don't know, but who surely have them. CGI, for example -- recipient of Healthcare.gov's largest development contract -- has been the source of blame cast on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid's role as the project's systems integrator. 

Although that could be true, CMS hasn't claimed or discussed that role; the reports are speculative. And CGI has a multi-million dollar reason to point the finger somewhere besides at itself.

As PolitiFact explains, '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."

"And no one beta-tested the site, which is almost criminal when you think about it," Stern reported. 

The observation that Healthcare.gov wasn't sufficiently tested is a good one, but "criminal?"

For all anyone knows, launching on the Oct. 1 deadline with problems and all may have been a dicey but wise choice to ensure the Affordable Care Act's political survival. If the site is repaired soon enough, the decision --whoever made it -- may look a lot smarter than postponing the Obamacare enrollment deadlines without first driving a large stake in the ground.

As a PR strategy, denying journalists' access to information about Healthcare.gov has caused an outpouring of unconfirmed reports that contain shreds of evidence. But without knowledge of the facts and actual context, "mostly true" may not be true at all. Read the story. 



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