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Hartford - While officials from Connecticut's health insurance marketplace are pleased with the pace of new enrollments, they acknowledged Thursday that work needs to be done to improve their call center's long wait times, especially with the last-minute flood of applications expected before enrollment ends in late March.
Peter Van Loon, the chief operating officer at Access Health CT, said the marketplace's call center has been overwhelmed with calls. He said the center's performance during the recent deadline to obtain coverage by Jan. 1 was "wholly unsatisfactory," pointing out how many callers hung up in frustration. In mid-December, some waited an average of 20 minutes before speaking with a representative.
"We just woefully underestimated the number of calls," Van Loon said.
Van Loon said the private vendor operating the call center, Maximus Inc., is more than doubling its call center representatives from 149 to more than 300 by the end of the week. Also, he said Maximus is opening a call center in Illinois and expanding an existing center in Georgia to help with fielding Connecticut calls. Besides the looming open enrollment deadline, Access Health CT officials are expecting an increase of calls from Medicaid clients whose eligibility criteria are changing in March, due to the federal Affordable Care Act, and need to reapply.
People also have flooded Access Health CT's call center with questions about how to use their new coverage and with complaints about not yet receiving insurance cards or premium bills from their new private insurance companies. Some called Access Health CT because they were unable to reach a representative at their insurance company's call center. The three companies extended their payment deadlines for coverage starting Jan. 1. The bulk of the complaints have come from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield customers, who've been given until Jan. 31 to make their first premium payment for coverage starting Jan. 1.
Anthem has enrolled more individuals than the two other private insurers participating with Access Health CT. The company has apologized for its backlog in processing applications and set up a walk-in center in Wallingford and a dedicated email system to assist Connecticut customers. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday he believes the insurer is making "substantial progress."
As of Thursday morning, Access Health CT had enrolled a total of 86,000 people, said Kevin Counihan, the marketplace's chief executive. He said about 500 to 1,000 enrollees are being added a day. That means the marketplace, also called an exchange, is on track to meet or exceed its goal of enrolling 100,000 people once the open enrollment period ends on March 31, he said.
Of those 86,000 people, Counihan said 52 percent signed up for private coverage and 48 percent for government-funded Medicaid.
"We're extremely pleased with this kind of growth," Counihan told members of Access Health CT's board of directors on Thursday. However, Van Loon said the exchange is disappointed in the low number of small businesses so far participating in the exchange.
Counihan said there are some rumblings that federal authorities might extend the open enrollment period beyond March 31. He said Access Health CT is preparing for that possibility.
"Personally, I think having deadlines and sticking to them is usually the best way to go," he said. "It's less confusing for the marketplace."