How Will Covered California Service Centers Work?

Service centers — the places where California consumers will be directed  through an 800 phone number and a web portal to get answers to their exchange and eligibility questions  — are on the agenda at today’s meeting of the Health Benefit Exchange board.

Betsy Imholz, director of the West Coast office of Consumers Union, hopes her questions about service centers will be answered at today’s meeting.

Consumers Union is one of 13 advocacy groups that signed onto a recent letter to the exchange board, asking for assurance that the board hasn’t yet adopted a particular type of protocol model for the service centers, a protocol that Imholz said could discourage people from participating in the exchange.

“The Affordable Care Act had a vision of simplifying the process, because people have to know what they’re eligible for,” Imholz said. “It’s the no-wrong-door policy, and the idea is that it be simplified, fast and easy. Unfortunately, California has a complicated system.”

Imholz and other advocates are concerned that the board may have already decided on a service center protocol called the quick screening questionnaire, which transfers consumers to county offices to determine whether or not they’re eligible for Medi-Cal. If that protocol is adopted, Imholz said, the exchange might lose some customers who drop out when they’re put on hold or if they become frustrated with the county procedure.

“We don’t want the cable TV experience where people are rerouted to different people and it gets increasingly frustrating. We want to make sure it’s fast and simple for them,” Imholz said.

“The question is: When you call [the Covered California service center], will you be asked 20 questions to find out if you’re eligible, or will you be asked two or three questions and then sent somewhere else?” Imholz said. “We don’t want them to be sent away.”

A long presentation on service centers is scheduled before the exchange board today.

“There is no action item on this, it’s a discussion item,” said Oscar Hidalgo, director of communication and public affairs at the exchange. “We haven’t come to any decisions on it, and we’re committed to working with all our stakeholders to help come to those decisions. We have been in discussion with stakeholders, and we will be in discussion with them. We don’t expect a final board decision until the February or March board meeting.”

Also up for discussion at today’s meeting is the involvement of retail stores in the promotion of Covered California.

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