Stanislaus County supervisors vote to submit call center proposal

kcarlson@modbee.comDecember 4, 2012 

— Stanislaus County supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to submit a proposal for operating a call center to help the uninsured obtain affordable health insurance, but not before they expressed fears the county could get stuck with unforeseen costs.

Some worried the county won’t be reimbursed for cost overruns and the long-term costs of employee retirement benefits. The county would employ from 250 to 300 workers to run the center for the California Health Benefit Exchange, the agency creating an insurance marketplace under the federal health care law.

“We have a long history of being stuck with a bill from the state,” Supervisor Terry Withrow said.

If the federal program were to fail, he said, the county will have ongoing pension costs for employees who work at the center. Supervisor Vito Chiesa clarified that employees are vested in the county retirement system only after five years of work.

The county proposes to run the 40,000 square-foot center for $65 million to $70 million over three years, with two possible one-year extensions. Federal and state funds will pay for getting three call centers up and running in California. After that, the funding will come out of customers’ insurance premiums.

In the event that funding goes away, there would be a nine-month period for closing down the program, a report said.

County staff said they have tried to account for all costs in the proposal being sent to the state this week. Supervisors will also rely on county legal staff to ensure any agreement with the exchange is ironclad.

The state is expected to choose a county for the center in early January and then negotiate a detailed agreement.

Three call centers — including two operated by the state — are supposed to start assisting customers in October 2013. Stanislaus and two other counties initially expressed interest in the program.

After the federal law makes health insurance mandatory in 2014, an estimated 2 million Californians will buy subsidized health plans through the exchange. The call centers also will assist people who become newly eligible for Medi-Cal benefits.

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