For States, It’s Hard to Hire Good Help on Obamacare

by Sterling Beard

There’s not much help out there for people looking to sign up for Obamacare.

In California, a state which runs its own health-care exchange called Covered California, fewer than 20 percent of the enrollment counselors and insurance agents who have begun the state’s training process have been cleared to handle applications.

The state originally planned to have 16,000 enrollment counselors and thousands more insurance agents aiding applicants, but only 613 of 4,213 counselors are certified. Only 3,143 of 16,000 insurance agents have finished their training. State officials had estimated that up to 80 percent of consumers would want the kind of in-person help that the workers and agents could provide.

Critics say that the shortage of workers and agents is a result of training sessions beginning late and background checks taking too long.  

“Enrollment counselors and agents are an important component to enrollment because we can’t do this on our own,” Covered California spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said, adding that the exchange was “asking counselors to make future appointments and to use paper applications when they can’t access the website.”

But California isn’t the only state that’s having trouble getting good help these days. West Virginia has its own share of troubles.

West Virginia has yet to hire the majority of its “in-person assisters,” also known as “IPAs,” trained, full-time workers paid $20 an hour, according to Perry Bryant, the executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Care. However, according to the West Virginia Insurance Commission, only about 80 of the planned 170 IPAs have been hired and are working.

“We’re going to lose one-sixth of the enrollment period with [the IPAs] not being in place,” Bryant said, adding that IPAs were meant to be “the backbone of the outreach efforts.”

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