Insurance exchanges to spark questions

June 22, 2013 in Medical Technology

Jun 21, 2013

This KHN story was produced in collaboration with wapo

Within days, the company that handles an average of more than 60,000 calls daily about Medicare will be deluged by new inquiries about health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The six Medicare call centers run by Vangent, a company based in Arlington, Va., will answer questions about the health care law from the 34 states that opted out of running their own online health insurance marketplaces or decided to operate them jointly with the federal government.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that Vangent’s call centers will receive 42 million calls about the federal marketplaces this year, a daily average of up to 200,000; plus answer 2,400 letters and 740 e-mails, and host 500 Web chats daily. Customer service representatives will take consumers through the process — from shopping for a plan to enrolling.

Running the 800-Medicare call centers may provide valuable experience, but Vangent’s track record reveals that it was slow to adapt when changes in the Medicare program caused dramatic spikes in demand.


“It’s going to be huge,” said Bonnie Burns, a training and policy specialist at California Health Advocates. “The number of calls they are likely to get will probably dwarf anything they saw in Medicare.”

Vangent declined requests for interviews.

The company will begin its new operation by the end of June.

The marketplaces, also called exchanges, will offer private health policies for individuals and small businesses, and government subsidies for many people for coverage beginning next year. Enrollment starts Oct. 1.

Vangent, a subsidiary of General Dynamics Information Technology, will run both Medicare and the federal health exchange call centers under a contract worth $530 million in its first year. The company, which was awarded the HHS contract in April, eventually may open as many as eight additional call centers and triple its staff to more than 13,000, government officials said.

Explaining plan options and subsidy eligibility won’t be easy. Three years after President Barack Obama signed the landmark health legislation into law, nearly half of Americans still know little about how it affects them, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent project of the foundation.)

Past Challenges

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