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Covered California fields thousands of calls on health insurance

State healthcare exchange director says wait-times getting shorter

Over the past week, workers at a state healthcare exchange call center in Concord have fielded an influx of calls from thousands of Californians looking to enroll in health care under the Affordable Care Act.

The county-run call center has so far helped handle questions from more than 59,000 callers whose were routed either to the Concord facility or to the call center located in Rancho Cordova, according to Peter Lee, Executive Director of Covered California, the state's new healthcare exchange.

"We started strong in our first week," he said. "The amount of interest and number of applications we've received in the first week underscores the demand among Californians for quality, affordable health care."

The calls came addition to the 987,000 individuals who visited the Covered California website to learn more about health insurance options offered through the state's online exchange, Lee said.

Since Oct. 1, when the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was rolled out, more than 16,300 California households have applied and been deemed eligible for insurance under Covered California, and more than 27,300 have partially completed their applications, he said.

Average weekday call wait times dropped from around 15 minutes on Tuesday to less than four minutes on Friday, according to Lee.

He said both call centers hope to get wait times down to 30 seconds or less.

At the Concord call center, located in a 37,000-square-foot warehouse located at 2500 Bates Ave., representatives continue to handle a steady stream of calls, said Antonio Vasquez, a customer service supervisor at the center.

The more than 160 customer service representatives at the new center spend most of their time educating callers about the Affordable Care Act and helping them determine if their income levels and other factors make them eligible either for federal subsidies to help cover health care premiums or for low-cost or free Medi-Cal.

In many cases, callers with preexisting conditions are relieved that they're eligible for any coverage and are often surprised they won't be required to pay more for a health care plan, said Lisa Jones, a customer service agent at the center.

"A lot of people still believe they will be denied for preexisting conditions so they are overjoyed when they learn they can't be rejected," she said.

Jones said that as more people learn about their options under the Affordable Care Act, "people are more educated and ready to enroll now."

In addition to individuals and families, some 430 small businesses statewide have registered so far to apply for health coverage for their workers through the exchange, according to Lee.

Enrollees through Covered California will receive health care coverage starting Jan. 1, and open enrollment will continue through March 31.

Both individuals and business owners may learn about health care plan options or enroll in Covered California by visiting www.coveredca.com or by speaking to a customer service agent at 888-975-1142.

The Concord call center is open 72 hours per week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

— Bay City News Service

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