Washington Exchange Answering Less Than One Third of Customer Calls

by Sterling Beard

Washington’s Obamacare exchange isn’t listening to customers. More precisely, it’s literally answering the calls of less than a third of the Washingtonians who’ve called about problems with the exchange.

Healthplanfinder, the state’s exchange, has served as a bright spot for Obamacare defenders when it comes to state-based health-insurance exchanges. But of the 230,000 customers who called its service line for help in October, over 76,000 were played a recorded message asking them to call back later because of high call volume, and then cut off (a practice called “throttling”); 63,000 couldn’t get through because they called during after hours or on the weekend. Another 44,000 were abandoned — the caller was put in a queue to speak with a Healthplanfinder representative, but hung up before getting through.

Only 47,000 calls resulted in consumers getting through to representatives; approximately 80 percent of them pertained to errors on the exchange’s online marketplace.

The exchange is planning to hire an additional staffers for its call center by mid December, which will bring the total number of staffers to 286. Currently, 159 representatives there man the phones and 38 are working to process paper applications.

Data for November isn’t yet available, but the call volume isn’t slacking off. The exchange had 17,000 calls last week, and is expecting a deluge of them in December as consumers attempt to sign up for insurance by December 23, the deadline by which people can pay for coverage that begins on January 1.

They’ll have their work cut out for them: The exchange “throttled” 42,000 calls in the first week of November alone.

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