While the deadline for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period is long past, call centers, especially those in California, are still working the phone lines to help people who are waiting for their applications to be processed.
These applicants typically signed up before the April 15 deadline. Additionally, California’s state medical program, MediCal, was expanded as part of the ACA, which resulted in an increase in volume for call centers that support the program.
The complicated nature of these calls is one factor in the continued workload. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that each consumer typically requires between one and two hours of help. Often, consumer questions about health plans couldn’t be answered by information posted on marketplace websites, although wait times for call-center assistance also slowed the process.
"We are still getting calls, but we have now reached the point where people have signed up and are still trying to get their applications approved," said Russ Brown, spokesman for the Health and Human Services department in Yuba County, California, during an interview with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.
In nearby Sutter County, the ACA call center is still receiving approximately 6,000 calls a month from people with ACA questions, according to Lori Harrah, assistant director of Sutter County Human Services. That county has seen more than 3,500 new clients signing up for MediCal alone.
And it won’t be over anytime soon. A second wave of ACA applicants are expected as the new 2015 open enrollment begins on November 15. Although many are hoping this time around, many of the issues experienced during the last enrollment period will be addressed.
"They still need to improve interfacing," Harrah said. "They didn't anticipate income changes. They felt that people would remain static."
Indeed, ACA coverage is proving to be a moving target for some people. Certain changes in status — such as marriage, birth or adoption of a child, or loss of other health coverage — mean that some people will be able to apply for ACA coverage outside of the open enrollment period. If reported within 60 days of the event, these people can qualify for a special enrollment period.
This also means ACA call centers will continue to experience consumers trying to obtain coverage throughout the year. "We continue to remind people that we are still open for business," Peter V. Lee, Covered California executive director, said in a statement.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson