News : Obamacare Call Centers Still Busy
July 27, 2014 -- It's more than three months past open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, but officials said the controversial health care program is still providing work at local call centers.
Both Sutter and Yuba counties are dealing with increased caseloads stemming mostly from the expanded MediCal program that came with the Affordable Care Act.
Lori Harrah, assistant director of Sutter County Human Services, said the caseload of MediCal clients in the county has climbed from 10,181 last October to 13,699 in May. That's more than 3,500 new clients.
Furthermore, Harrah said, the county call center is still receiving some 6,000 calls a month from people making Affordable Care Act inquiries.
"Our caseload has grown dramatically," Harrah said. "It's much more than what the state anticipated."
In Yuba County, spokesman Russ Brown said the Health and Human Services department has also seen an increase in clients for expanded MediCal. The list has climbed from 5,972 in September 2013 to 6,983 last month, an increase of just more than 1,000.
But what is also keeping Yuba County's call center busy is the processing of more than 840 outstanding Affordable Care Act and MediCal applications, Brown said. Those are applications filed before the April 15 open enrollment deadline, but not yet completed.
"We are still getting calls, but we have now reached the point where people have signed up and are still trying to get their applications approved," Brown said.
Neither Yuba County nor Sutter County has yet to receive a county-by-county breakdown on the number of people who have signed up for the Affordable Care Act. All that has been reported by the state is that as of last March there were 27,853 enrollees in a 22-county region that includes Yuba and Sutter.
The majority of Affordable Care Act clients have signed up through the state call center. Only those callers who are determined to be eligible for the expanded MediCal program are moved on to counties.
Under the expanded criteria, residents who are within 138 percent of the county's poverty level can qualify for MediCal coverage. In Yuba County, that's salaries of about $16,000 a year for a single person or $33,000 for a family of four.
"A lot of people applied for the Affordable Care Act and were found eligible for expanded MediCal," Brown said.
Harrah said Sutter County call center workers have been putting in overtime to keep up with the backlog of pending applications and the increased MediCal case load.
Both she and Brown said they hope the process goes smoother at the state level for the open enrollment period that begins Nov. 15.
"They still need to improve interfacing," Harrah said. "They didn't anticipate income changes. They felt that people would remain static."
Brown noted glitches in the way the state determines eligibility that lasted through the entire open enrollment period.
"Hopefully the state will get that cleaned up for the next open enrollment," he said.
Eric Lewis of Yuba City-based David Ernstam Financial and Insurance said the Covered California website has improved.
"Overall speed of the website is much faster," he said. "There have not been any errors while doing the application outside of open enrollment."
There are also more local physicians contracting with the Affordable Care Act, Lewis said. However, Anthem Blue Cross will like remain the only local carrier, aside from a small portion of Olivehurst that falls within Kaiser's coverage area.
"Hopefully, the state will use this time to catch up," Harrah said. "I know they are frantically working to get ready for the next open enrollment."
'Still open for business'
Even though open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act ended April 15, there are situations under which people can still apply.
"There are certain things that occur in life that will allow people to apply," Brown said.
A new job, the loss of employment, a divorce, a marriage, a new baby and the loss of MediCal eligibility are all considered life-changing incidents that could allow Affordable Care Act coverage outside the open enrollment period. The next open enrollment period starts Nov. 15.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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