Merced County, California is setting up a regional call center to deal with the implementation of Covered California, which is the Golden State’s new health insurance exchange as required under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Starting from Oct 1, 2013, previously uninsured small businesses and individuals will be able to use this state-wide marketplace to enroll in affordable health plans. Coverage under these plans is set to begin on Jan 1, 2014.
Merced was chosen as the call center site for fielding calls and processing cases from nine counties, including Merced itself.
The center will create up to 45 new county jobs offering annual wages of up to $43,000, plus benefits and retirement.
The $5.6 million cost for the call center and the wages for the new county employees is being funded entirely through Medi-Cal, so the county is getting the call center and new jobs at zero cost to itself.
On the other hand, if the call center had gone to one of the other counties, Merced would have been obligated to that county for the cost of the calls, while still having to bear responsibility for the accuracy and on-time disposal of cases.
Since Merced currently has higher accuracy rates and efficiency, having their cases processed by another county would have meant a hike in penalties and sanctions. By securing the call center project in Merced itself, the county managed to eliminate these risks and additional costs.
The Merced County Board of Supervisors approved the County Human Services Agency (HSA) application for the call center and new hires in March, and some of the new positions have already been filled.
The call center will be fully operational by Oct 1, 2013. Because of the tight deadline, HSA decided to locate the center in their existing leased space on 16th St which was already wired into the C-IV network used for eligibility determination and processing across 39 counties in California.
This saved the additional time and cost that would have been required to configure a new site.
There’s also the cost savings associated with moving uninsured citizens into Medi-Cal. The medical care costs of these people are currently being borne by the county.
Merced County estimates there may be up to 39,600 new people eligible for Medi-Cal once the Affordable Care Act is implemented, and anywhere between 9,000 to 29,000 of them may enroll through Covered California.