Obamacare call center will create 42 Merced County jobs

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJuly 1, 2013 

— A regional call center that will handle health care enrollment will add 42 new Merced County jobs to the roster, increasing the total number of permanent county positions to 1,943.

County supervisors unanimously approved the addition of the jobs Tuesday, most of which are classified as "Family Services Representative" positions. They also approved wiring for the project, which will cost about $50,000.

About 12 positions have been filled so far, officials said. The jobs are full-time and pay between $40,000 to $43,000 a year, including health benefits and retirement. The remaining jobs will be posted on the county web site as they become available.

The call center is part of California's compliance with federal health care reform, which includes expanding Medi-Cal, said Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan.

The employees will work out of the Human Services Agency's site on 16th Street, Pagan said.

The center's staff will screen callers for Medi-Cal benefits and enroll them in other insurance plans as necessary. They'll handle calls from eight other counties: Mariposa, Madera, Inyo, Mono, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne.

"Most of our partners are rural, and it poses specific challenges," Pagan said. "So our partners are happy we're taking the lead because we're known for our innovation and creative thinking."

The cost of the regional call center is $5.6 million, covered entirely by state and federal funding, according to Pagan.

Pagan said that benefits of having the call center in Merced include better control over cases and a staff that's familiar with area resources.

"The clients know us here in the community, and we have an excellent reputation," Pagan said. "They will be in good hands."

Michelle Roe, Human Services Agency deputy director, said Merced County's selection for the call center is a testament to its commitment to good service.

"I see it as an honor that Merced is going to host it," Roe said. "They thought so highly of our work and ability to support them."

If Merced had not been selected as the site of the call center, the calls and casework would be handled by other counties — and Merced County would be responsible for paying those costs.

Scott Dockstader, Human Services Agency fiscal manager, said the move allows Merced County and the other eight counties to become more efficient.

"It's easier if we can collaborate like this," he said. "With all the counties coordinating the effort, we can become more efficient."

The regional call center is expected to be operational by October 1.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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