Hundreds start work at Fresno Covered California call center

FRESNO, Calif.

The new hires will mostly be dedicated to fielding phone calls. The agency has seen a large call volume since it started open enrollment in October. They expect to see even more in as the Mar. 31 deadline for open enrollment approaches.

Lee says the current wait time for customers on the phone, is about 50 minutes and he says Californians deserve better.

"We've heard their complaints, we've heard the concerns, and we've stepped up to say, we're going to make it right," he said.

Lee says the ideal wait time is 30 seconds. And his agency's goal is make that happen.

The new employees will undergo about three weeks of training, and they should be ready to tackle the phones by the end of the month.

Nearly 30 of the new hires will be devoted entirely to Spanish speaking clients. Covered California also has representatives trained to field questions in Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

"We want to make sure those thousands of individuals across the state, have help when they need help," Lee said.

The Fresno Call Center has been open since the fall. They have about 100 employees, prior to the addition of the 250 employees. The Fresno Call Center, along with customer service representatives in call centers in the state, helps field calls from all over California.

Ruben Gonzalez, a manager at the Fresno office, says they have had their hands full and welcome the change.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "There are customers that don't like to wait and by the time they get to us, they're a little bit upset."

Covered California is getting help from federal grants meant to help them enhance their customer service. Those funds are expected to dry up at the end of the year. Lee says covered California has set aside nearly 200 million dollars for when that happens.

"Next year, 2015, we're going to be spending more than we bring in," he said. "Some deficit spending next year, but that's part of the plan."

By 2016, Lee expects the health care exchange to be bringing in more money that it spends. He says they are on track to be self-sustaining.

Lee says hiring the employees was all planned.

They plan to hire nearly a 150 more in the next two weeks to work at Covered California's other call centers.

A covered California spokesman says the costs of hiring a total of 421 new employees are included in the budget. It comes at an annual cost of $16-million when between salaries and benefits.

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