Calls for enrollment up at Merced Covered California center

Despite a few setbacks, the regional call center in Merced has experienced an increasing number of calls from consumers wanting to enroll in a health insurance plan before the March 31 Affordable Care Act deadline.

The call center, which launched on Oct. 1 for open enrollment, handles calls that are routed from Covered California’s West Sacramento-based main information line. The call center serves residents in Merced, Mariposa, Madera, Inyo, Mono, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

In the past month, the call center has received about 35 calls per day. March 10 was the busiest day recorded with 52 calls answered, according to Corrina Brown, staff services analyst with the county’s Human Services Agency.

Brown says she expects an even higher volume of calls after the open enrollment deadline. “Covered California’s (main information line) keeps the bulk of the calls right now, but beginning in April, Covered California will transfer most of the calls in our region to our agents (at the Merced call center),” Brown said.

The call center’s operation has been for the most part smooth, but it has faced some communication difficulties with Covered California’s main information line, according to Brown. She said she noticed those who work at the call center seem to have more access to information than those who work at the main information line.

“There has been some confusion in the process mainly because a lot of the newly trained agents at Covered California’s (main information line) don’t provide the level of detail that consumers require,” Brown said. “A higher level of knowledge is required to answer clients’ questions and we noticed that a lot of things were not being clarified, but this all has to do with the newness of it all.”

That can create a pattern of consumer misinformation, she said.

Agents also received a large number of repeat calls from consumers who were unsure of their eligibility, Brown said.

“Technically the state is required to notify the consumer of the outcome of their health insurance application and whether they qualify for financial assistance,” she said, “but there were some hiccups in the Covered California system and consumers were not being notified about their application status.”

Call center agents have also experienced a heavy workload on occasions when the Covered California computer system goes down.

“It’s been down for a few hours or even up to five days straight. That creates problems because we then have to collect the person’s information and enter it on a manual application, which can be very time-consuming,” Brown said.

The call center agents have been doing their best to answer questions from callers, despite the issues with Covered California’s computer system, said Mary Ellen Arana, deputy director of the Human Services Agency.

“I do commend the staff at the call center for providing quality customer service so that the consumer has an almost seamless experience,” she said.

Call center employees work out of the Human Services Agency’s site on 16th Street, but there’s no face-to-face help offered there, Arana said, and that anyone seeking in-person assistance may visit the Human Services Agency building at 2115 W. Wardrobe Ave.

The Merced call center has 20 agents and has extended its hours for March. The center operates seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The center will resume its regular hours in April.