Arizona to benefit from Connector’s customer service blitz

BOSTON (SHNS) – In preparation for the launch of its new health insurance exchange next month, the Massachusetts Connector Authority is staffing up on customer service to make sure there are ample resources to guide consumers through the process of applying and enrolling in new coverage.

But while the state plans to have a total of 680 customer service staff trained for the Nov. 15 launch of open enrollment, some of the calls for help will be long-distance.

Optum, the state’s IT vendor working on the exchange project, has agreed to hire and train 250 full-time customer services representatives based in Phoenix as part of its $102 million contract with the state.

Maydad Cohen, the governor’s point man on the exchange project, said officials tried to work with Optum to bring those jobs to Massachusetts, but could not guarantee a qualified pool of talent from which to hire.

“We wanted a single location so that training and any issues could get handled in one specific spot,” Cohen said, when asked whether the new call center would be based in Massachusetts. “We did work with Optum to see if we could do it in Massachusetts.”

Cohen said the high demand from other states in New England for “knowledgeable customer services reps” made it difficult to try to locate the call center in Massachusetts.

“There’s a number of states around us that have been hiring quite a lot of customer services reps so the availability for building up and having 250 people and a building in Massachusetts as fast as we need it just wasn’t, didn’t work out,” Cohen said.

In addition to the Optum customer service team, the Connector Authority call center will be staffed with 100 full-time employees, and MassHealth will have an additional 80 customer service representatives to deal with consumer questions. The total number of call center employees will be 430 more than in 2013 at the time of the first, problem-plagued launch of the state health insurance exchange.

Officials said Optum’s team will initially be trained to process paper applications for Bay State residents who can’t access the website or prefer the traditional paper process, and will be available to support other efforts, such as making outbound calls to applicants, as the need arises.

The Connector is also in the midst of full-scale outreach campaign targeting 450,000 residents that may need to apply for Affordable Care Act compliant coverage through the health exchange. The success of the new website and the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts will depend, in large part, on state officials successfully driving eligible residents to the exchange and enrolling them in new plans.

Cohen said he expects between 200,000 and 250,000 residents to actually apply for coverage through the exchange, where, if eligible, they will either be placed into MassHealth or a subsidized health plan through the Connector.

In addition to public education and community outreach events around the state, the Connector is preparing to launch a $4.3 million advertising blitz on television, radio and in print on Nov. 15.

Connector Executive Director Jean Yang said that the television ads will try to strike a balance in tone between friendly and urgent. “When we’re out in the field, we err on the side of scaring people, because it’s that important,” Yang said.

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