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Exchange Vows Major Improvement for Call Center Wait Times, Website

The good news, exchange director Peter Lee said, is that interest in Covered California is running high and the call centers are deluged with calls.

The bad news? Well, interest in the exchange is running high and the call centers are deluged with calls.

Wait times to talk to a customer representative on the phone reached an average of 51 minutes last month. That’s almost an hour to wait to talk to someone before the long and complicated health insurance conversation begins.

The state’s new health insurance exchange yesterday announced the hiring of 350 new call center representatives, 250 of whom started the three-week training session yesterday.

Lee said the exchange staff improved website functionality, improved the recorded “wait time” messaging, strengthened outreach to potential enrollees who speak other languages and beefed up its online “chat” presence (answering people’s questions in real time through instant messaging) by hiring another 25 people for that purpose.

“We wanted from Day One for consumers to have a first-class experience at the exchange, and that hasn’t been the case for every consumer,” Lee said. “It has happened in a first-class way for many Californians, but certainly not all. We saw back in December that our call times were not what we wanted, and we wanted to fix that.”

The original goal of a 30-second wait before a phone is answered in the call center likely won’t happen this year, Lee said, but people should see a significant improvement during the remaining two months of open enrollment. The exchange’s first six-month enrollment period closes Mar. 31.

“They’re going to help people get the coverage they need,” Lee said.

The 250 new representatives-in-training should be answering calls by the start of March. It’s unclear when the other 100 workers the exchange wants to hire would start and finish training, but Lee said it would be sometime in March, before enrollment ends.

Among the 250 new trainees, 28 speak Spanish. That’s a similar percentage of Spanish-speaking phone representatives, about 10%, among current call center workers.

Lee said applications now are available online in four languages other than English — Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Changes in the phone system mean callers on hold now hear answers to Covered California’s most frequently asked questions. The answers are available in Spanish and English.

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Capitol Desk Covered California