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Big Bay Area Call Center Gears Up To Field Obamacare Questions

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(Photo by Getty Images)

(Photo by Getty Images)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSSanFrancisco.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

CONCORD (CBS SF) — Starting Tuesday, more than 160 customer service agents in a Concord warehouse will be fielding calls from prospective enrollees in the state’s new health care exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The agents have been training non-stop over the past week in preparation for the long-awaited opening of the 37,000-square-foot call center located at 2500 Bates Ave., according to Contra Costa County Deputy County Administrator Theresa Speiker.

The Concord facility is one of three state call centers opening to help eligible people find health care plans under the new statewide exchange.

cbsSF Affordable Care Act Resource Center

“We’re anxious to turn on the switch,” said Angela Blanchette, spokeswoman for Covered California, the agency implementing the state’s new online health insurance market.

Open enrollment for health care plans under the state exchange will run from Oct. 1 to March 31. Coverage under Covered California can begin as soon as Jan. 1.

In future years, the open enrollment period will be considerable shorter, Speiker said.

Call center agents will answer questions from consumers statewide about options for health plans and whether they qualify for financial subsidies under Covered California, the initiative mandated by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to make health care accessible to all Californians.

“Health care is a right, it is not a privilege,” Blanchette said. “Our mission is to create a new health insurance marketplace where Californians and small businesses can get access to affordable, quality health insurance plans.”

Of the 5 million Californians estimated to be eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for health care, some 400,000 live in the Bay Area, she said.

Call centers like the one opening in Concord are meant to address myriad questions associated with the state’s new online health market.

“People want to know how the program works and if they qualify for coverage – there’s a wide gamut of questions,” Blanchette said.

The 163 agents hired so far to staff the call center have had ample practice fielding callers’ questions since the facility had its “soft opening” late last month, county officials said.

The number of calls received there has increased steadily as the center prepares for its official opening on Tuesday, Blanchette said.

The Concord call center agents were hired out of a staggeringly large pool of 7,000 candidates who applied to staff the new center, Speiker said.

She said the county had expected to draw somewhere around 2,000 candidates to the new facility.

“Seven thousand is unheard of,” she said.

The two different types of customer service agents at the center start at $15.30 per hour or at $17.80 per hour depending on their experience and skill sets, she said.

Speiker said of the 163 hired so far, 37 were hired as “permanent intermittent” workers, whose hours fluctuate.

The county plans to hire a total of 203 call center agents by January, but could hire more depending on demand, Speiker said.

Californians can also find out about their eligibility and coverage options or enroll in Obamacare by visiting http://www.coveredca.com or phone 888-975-1142.

The Concord call center will be open 72 hours per week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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