MNsure continues to feel heat over call center problems

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MNsure is taking heat again as the call center for the state's health insurance exchange is being criticized for its continuing problems, the Star Tribune reports.

The paper says a major boost in manpower is still weeks away and the call center remains overwhelmed. Customers reportedly are being placed on hold for 30 minutes or more, while the call center industry standard is reportedly no more than 5 minutes.

Even MNsure board member Tom Forsythe admitted to the Star Tribune that the call center problems are taking "way too long to fix" and the response has been "inadequate."

MinnPost talked with various parties, including MNsure staff and outside experts, about the call center issues. Agency members said the response time has actually improved, although they admit the demand is lighter right now.

Still, at its peak time just before the Jan. 15 enrollment deadline for February coverage, MinnPost found that the call center received 2,500-3,500 calls a day, with wait times of more than an hour. By contrast, the call center reportedly received 1,000-1,700 calls a day the week of Jan. 20, with wait times ranging from 5 minutes to just under 30 minutes, the publication reported.

MinnPost says MNsure's goal in the coming weeks is a customer wait time of 10 to 20 minutes. Eventually they want to reach the industry standard of 2 to 5 minutes.

The president of Customer Elation, one of the largest call center operations in Minnesota, says even a 10-minute hold is considered "a huge failure" by industry standards.

"No business would accept a 10-minute hold as their norm," Pete Hainey told the Star Tribune.

Three companies are vying for an outsourcing contract with MNsure, which the agency is expected to finalize next week. The contract will reportedly allow the addition of 100 external customer service representatives to the staff, which is currently 65 operators strong.

The Star Tribune says the additional operators are expected to be in place by the March 31 deadline to buy insurance under the federal government's Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare." The act requires most Americans to have health insurance by that date, or face penalties.

The state estimated 135,000 consumers would be enrolled in MNsure by the end of March, but only 27,775 have registered so far according to recent data, the Star Tribune reports.

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