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MNsure hires outside vendor to help field calls

By Christopher Snowbeck, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Outside reinforcements are on the way for the beleaguered MNsure call center.

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During a meeting Wednesday in St. Paul, the board of Minnesota’s new health insurance exchange hired an outside call center vendor at a cost of up to $750,000. The move should help address caller complaints about long waits — up to two hours on average at one point — for help.

The final contract should be signed by the end of the week, and will make available about 100 workers by early March, said Scott Leitz, the interim chief executive officer at MNsure.

MNsure is preparing for an expected surge in consumer demand next month as people obtain coverage to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

There was a similar rush for people to obtain coverage in December, but operators at the MNsure call center were overwhelmed trying to assist people with a health exchange website that was riddled with IT glitches.

“We anticipate reaching an agreement with (the vendor) in the next day or so,” Leitz told board members.

Training of the workers already has begun. But Republicans on Wednesday criticized MNsure’s process for handling the contract, noting that the vendor is expected to perform work through the end of April.

“It’s disturbing to learn that MNsure negotiated a $250,000 per month agreement behind closed doors to assist their broken call center,” said Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, in a statement.

“Gov. Dayton and Democrats had three years to develop a plan, and have known for months that the call center was leaving Minnesotans frustrated without assistance,” Hoppe said. “MNsure should have issued a request for proposal, and cast a wide and competitive net to find experts who could fix this mess.”