Unexpectedly high call center costs for Colorado's health exchange are pushing the state's Obamacare portal way over budget. "Complex sign-up problems" have led the exchange's administrators to requirst an additional $3 million to cover the costs, according to Health News Colorado. Board members instead looked ready to approve a $2 million expansion, but only with the proviso that service improve dramatically this year.
Call center costs were originally budgeted at $13.7 million, HCN reports. Additional emergency funding bumped that figure up to $14.9 million. But the total price tag for the state exchange's call center operations is not expected to hit $18.1 million.
The problem is that the technology driving the state's sign-up system is a mess:
Workers at the centers are facing angry customers who desperately need help. Last year, about 4,000 people a month needed help with "life-change events" that they can't report online. Last fall, thousands of customers who could have automatically renewed plans instead called for help when they found their plans were costing significantly more because their tax subsidies had declined. Then a new sign-up system that Colorado Medicaid officials built that was supposed to be simpler instead caused problems for thousands of customers. In recent weeks, yet another snafu has emerged as exchange managers discovered that another 3,600 people who were supposed to have their plans renewed instead lost their coverage.
Exchange managers contend that the system has worked well for most people. But they've acknowledged that many have endured major problems. Each of those people has required extensive one-on-one help.
Going forward, budgeting for the state exchanges is likely to continue to be a headache. The states were built and initially run on generous federal grants, but now that the grant money has largely run dry, paying for exchange operations has become considerably more difficult—especially in situations like this, where systems unexpectedly cause problems that require extensive assistance.