Are Federal Call Centers Up To The Task Of Enrolling Millions In Health Plans?

barbara.lempert

Are Up To The Of In ?

By Phil Galewitz
KHN Staff Writer

HARTFORD, Conn., Oct 24, 2013 — An elderly man calls to ask if the land he owns will count as income to qualify for health coverage through Medicaid. A legal immigrant asks if she can sign up for a health plan through the state’s online insurance marketplace. A broker wants help to become certified to start selling coverage.

It’s 10 a.m. Monday inside the call center of Connecticut’s new insurance exchange established under the federal health law. On the 21st floor of the downtown Prudential Building, about 25 operators in blue shaded cubicles are talking on telephone headsets while a dozen more callers wait on hold.

“It’s controlled chaos,” said David Lynch, the call center manager for the marketplace.

Centers like these were touted by President Barack Obama this week as one of several alternatives for consumers having trouble shopping and enrolling in plans through healthcare.gov, the bug-ridden website run by the federal government for residents of 36 states.

“The call centers are available,” he said, reciting the telephone number — 1-800-318-2596. “You can talk to somebody directly and they can walk you through the application process…Once you get on the phone with a trained representative, it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply for coverage, about 45 minutes for a family.”

But consumer advocates say the centers were never meant to be an alternative to the insurance exchange website. They were conceived of as a supplement – a way to offer some consumers more help to understand their options.  

“The telephone call center is not a realistic alternative to the website,” said Adam Linker, health policy analyst for the North Carolina Justice Center, a consumer advocacy group. “The marketplace was billed as a place to easily shop and compare plans, but on the…Read more

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