By Kimetha Hill
Staff Writer

On Monday morning, Covered California held a special press conference to announce much needed improvements in its operations department.
“Over the last three months, we’ve experienced incredible demand and we recognize that many consumers have not had ideal consumer experiences,” said Executive Director for Covered California, Peter Lee. “Our primary goal is to provide excellent customer service to our customers.”

On February 10, 250 employees began training to enter the customer service department where they will respond to telephone service inquiries by members and customers. Said Lee, “What we’re doing right now is changing something, adding people and adding capacity.” By enlarging the support system, Lee hopes to cut current wait times in half. “Our goal is to have 80 percent of calls answered in 30 seconds. Right now we’re way off that. So with the new hires we’re looking at having wait times down to 15 – 20 minutes.”

Lee explained that as they recognized the extreme wait times, coupled with the high demand in service calls back in December, the recruitment process began. “The process of hiring staff has happened over several weeks. We noticed the issue back in December and began recruitment efforts accordingly.”

A total of 350 new employees began work on Monday, including 100 service representatives added in the Rancho Cordova location. The new employees will undergo a three week intensive training and then begin taking live calls.

Additionally, there is also a staff of 25 online chat representatives that will be available to assist customers navigating the website, and will have extended hours. “We feel this is an efficient way to handle consumers online, and our reps will be available at expanded hours,” said Lee. To alleviate wait times, a recorded version of frequently asked questions will be available for consumers, to include topics on how to verify if their physician is in-network, to how to handle their bill and so forth. This will also be available in Spanish.

Lee also expressed support and a pledge to bring on more bilingual service representatives. Currently less than 10 percent of customer service representatives are bilingual [in Spanish and English]. And though applications can be found in Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese, there is a lack of translation services for these other languages.

“We have made improvements to our Spanish language website,” said Lee, and added that there are currently about 30 Spanish/English speaking representatives.

Lee anticipates that the final two months of enrollment will happen primarily in the communities, which leads to the added line designated specifically for enrollment counselors. “Over 25,000 county workers across the state will be assisting customers in a face to face setting, and the support for them is crucial.”

Customers will also see improvements across the board in computer and phone systems, as Lee stressed the importance of providing accurate information for consumers.

The improvements done to Covered California’s system are funded through a federal grant. Additionally, they have adopted a small supplement of $155 million to support the additional needed customer service staff. Lee said the funding will be received in an ongoing basis. “This is a relatively small cost in comparison to helping consumers.”

Open enrollment ends on March 31.

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