Merced health exchange center opens to few calls, unexpected glitches

10/01/2013 8:46 PM

10/02/2013 11:29 AM

Enrollment for Affordable Care Act health insurance coverage began Tuesday, with staff at the regional call center in Merced confirming they received only a handful of calls and encountered a few glitches.

By 4p.m. Tuesday, call center staff received five phone calls, according to Sommer Moniz, the center’s program manager. Moniz said the majority of those calls came from outside the Central Valley, which was a result of a glitch in the system.

The center, on 16th Street between V and R streets, is designated to handle calls from Merced, Mariposa, Madera, Inyo, Mono, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

But the only local call on Tuesday came from Tuolumne County; the rest were from Southern California. About 20 staff members’ shifts were staggered throughout the day to spread out the coverage, according to Moniz.

“We serviced all five of those calls, regardless of what county they came from,” Moniz said. “But this should be something that’s a rarity. There might be some additional training that needs to be done.”

The regional mix-up wasn’t the only problem encountered after the staff showed up for work at 7:30a.m. on Tuesday.

“We didn’t have the (enrollment) codes we needed earlier this morning, so that made things interesting,” said Merced County Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan. “But our staff have been so finely tuned that they were ready to go. There were no nerves here.”

Pagan said the call center staff communicated challenges with call centers in other counties and state officials throughout the day.

“As with any new system, there are going to be some bugs that need to be refined,” Pagan said. “Everyone started something new today, so there are going to be some glitches and will take some time to fix.”

Staff members said they expect the call volume to increase over the next few weeks, especially during the open enrollment period that runs until March31.

About 108,000 residents of Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Mariposa and Tulare counties are believed to be eligible for subsidized coverage under the federal health law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

The $5.6million call center is part of California’s compliance with the federal health care overhaul, which includes expanding Medi-Cal.

Callers can be enrolled in other health plans approved for the region, offered by Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield and Health Net.

The center is open 7:30a.m. to 9p.m. on weekdays and 7:30a.m. to 6:30p.m on Saturday.

People can reach the center through Covered California, the state’s individual health insurance marketplace, at (800)300-1506. People also can enroll online at www.coveredca.com or by visiting one of three county Human Services Agency offices at: 2115 W Wardrobe in Merced, 1471 B St. STE F in Livingston or 415 F St. in Los Banos.

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