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I've been seeing the diaries of Obamacare success stories, and I'm really glad this is helping so many people. But the fact is, there are many people who are not getting the help they need, and a big reason is clearly the outsourcing of government work to private contractors.

We all know about the problems associated with CGI Federal and the private development and maintenance of healthcare.gov, but the problem extends to Marketplace customer service as well. Tonight, I tried helping someone acquire insurance via Marketplace. She began the process of looking for healthcare back in October. At that point, it was her understanding that medicaid was an option. Turns out that in Virginia she does not qualify despite her low income, so she turned back to marketplace for help. After spending four hours online researching the different plans, she selected one and tried to apply. However, because she had already set up a healthcare.gov ID, she could not proceed. After failing to remember her password, or recall the correct answers to her security questions, she called marketplace by phone. That's when things got especially irritating.

Angela was the first rep we spoke with. She could not find the account, so started a new application from scratch. There, she botched several of the key pieces of information, which limited the options to plans that were not at all what were needed, and what were available online. After spending an hour fixing all of the information, the plan types we researched were still not available. She basically said there was nothing she could do. Imagine how many people simply go with whatever plan she's presenting just because she's not capable of providing the correct information? At this point I asked for her name, employee ID, supervisor, and employer.  She insisted she worked for the government. Knowing that much of this work is contracted out, I was surprised to hear her say that. I asked her to confirm this several times, and she confirmed she worked for the government. After putting me on hold she gave me a last name, Miller, and said she had an employee ID but could not access it, an odd response to say the least. I asked her for her Supervisor's name. She told me there were many. I said give me one name. Again put on hold. She came back with Pam. No last name, just Pam. When I asked for a last name she transferred me to a Supervisor.

That's when we spoke to David. When asked, David told us his last name was Jones, which I got the impression he just made up on the spot. David could not help us either. I then pressed David on whether he worked for the government and he confirmed my suspicions: this was a government contractor who is making big bucks off of this and hiring untrained, unprofessional representatives to deal with the public. He refused to tell me the name of the employer, at first implying that he could not legally do so, and when pressed he simply hung up and dumped us into the automated survey system.

I'll see if Onvia can give me some clues about who has the customer service contracts for Marketplace. For tonight, the one thing I do know is that the first rep's insistence that she worked for the government was not a mistake. They're being told to say that. I don't know whether that's something HHS is asking the contractors to do, or if the contractors are choosing to do that, but it's total BS. These people make government workers look bad. I've never dealt with a Federal employee who was as incompetent as these people, and for those of you who have, are you really sure the person you dealt with worked for the government, and not a private third party? The reason it appears as though the government can't get anything done is because more and more of the services are being carried out by private contractors whose primary concern is profit instead of public service. Often times that means cheap, untrained labor, and cutting corners.

If politicians want to appropriate funds this way, or if cabinet level appointments want to run their departments this way, then the least they can do is come clean with the public: these crummy services and products are brought to you by the private sector, and the untrained, unprofessional person you're interacting with is not an employee of the government, but rather, an entry-level CSR who has no expertise, selected solely for the low price tag their employment adds to the payroll. In this case, the difference in out of pocket expenses could be thousands each year. That is one of the potential costs for the average American under a government designed to avoid "legacy costs" better known as retirement benefits, for trained, professional government workers whose mission is public service, not private profit.

If we're going to be serious about ensuring the success of this expansion of healthcare then we need to demand a proportionate expansion of the public sector workforce that is committed to serving the American people, and not committed to serving corporate leeches like CGI Federal and the mystery Markteplace contractor.

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Comment Preferences

  •  1000 rec's if i could! this reminds me of how (7+ / 0-)

    many government employees are cut due to sequestration, the outsourcing of critical services and the lack of enough personnel hired to handle volume.  the phone systems are overwhelmed, the staffing undereducated in how to handle problems - the wait to get through is forever and THEN disconnects for problem or complicated cases (may or may not be "accidental) - yep.  outsourcing.

    republicans wanted to make government small enough to drown in a bathtub - instead they have made it so outsourced it is choking our economy, killing our citizens, drowning us economically.

    this is the BEST reason to make sure we take back the house in november and strengthen the senate.

    we can't afford to let the republicans do any more damage.  our very lives depend on it!

    EdriesShop Is it kind? is it true? is it necessary?

    by edrie on Thu Jan 02, 2014 at 11:37:44 PM PST

  •  Our state medicaid that we all need to be rejected (5+ / 0-)

    by in order to qualify for our state ACA insurance is a horrible company that is used to making it hard for people to get in touch with them in  order to drive them away. When they messed up and I was left without insurance a state oversight agency fixed things in 36 hours, no call waiting.

    I want government employees.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 12:55:46 AM PST

  •  Found a few call center contractors (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Errol, DrLori, divineorder

    Looks like two major ACA call center contractors are Maximus (http://www.maximus.com), which has contracts for several states, and Vangent (acquired in 2011 by General Dynamics, http://www.generaldynamics.com), which has a contract for states that are using the federal exchange.

    http://www.npr.org/...

    http://capsules.kaiserhealthnews.org/...

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/...

    http://callcenterinfo.tmcnet.com/...

    Appears Maximus has managed to obscure the terms of their contracts in some states.

    Maybe it's time for some FOIA requests...?

  •  that would kill ACA, if that's what it takes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Errol, BlueMississippi

    The voters do not support your proposed significant expansion of the federal government employee work force.

    Neither Democrats nor Republicans support that.

    Won't happen.

    The outsourcing needs to be to competent and qualified outside contractors, not the incompetent contractors who bungled the ACA's roll out despite a 3 1/2 year headstart to design its software.  

    There are multiple qualified software contractors ("the Beltway Bandits" they are sometimes called) which perform far more complicated software projects than what was required for the ACA.  They support a number of US Govt agencies, including the DoD and Intelligence agencies.  They may not be the most popular contractors on this site because of the work they do - but for decades they have performed their work well.  Why the USG picked the incompetent software contractor team it did for the ACA roll out is unknown - but should be investigated by the appropriate Senate committee.  [I have no confidence that the House committee, led by serial conspiracy-buff Issa, could do a serious investigation.]

    •  We do know why incompetent IT firms get picked (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      divineorder

      It's the proverbial red tape.  It takes a huge amount of legal knowledge to navigate the maze of gov't contracting procedures.  Small, new companies do not stand a chance.  Companies get contracts based on their expertise at getting contracts, not their ability to deliver.  Some of the red tape was well-meaning, intended to prevent cronyism and favoritism.  But some is also deliberately inserted cronyism and favoritism, driven by lobbyists and politicians seeking contributions.

      http://www.businessinsider.com/...

      http://www.nytimes.com/...

      In fairness, the time allocated to do the work was too short.  Gov't contractors commonly expect to be able to slip deadlines, as there aren't typically fixed launch dates.  Their estimates are thus likely to be overoptimistic.  Congressional obstruction and withholding of resources also kept work from starting as early as it should have.

    •  Erm, thanks for the Republican / Third Way (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Apost8, tardis10

      talking points.  Love that privatization huh?

      Where's the fucking measure for this

      but for decades they have performed their work well.

      Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

      by divineorder on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 07:53:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This was decades in the making, and it's going to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    divineorder

    be a long tough road to get these contractors and their crony enablers clawed away from the government teat.
    Folks need to steel themselves and prepare to be in this for the long  haul.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:27:02 AM PST

  •  The entire bidding process for contracts in DC is (0+ / 0-)

    broken and an inefficient process with those companies that are great at lobbying and obtaining them on the front end being awarded the bids,  but blowing the project on the back end due to their structure of poor contractors or poorly trained and experienced personnel to complete the project(s) at hand. I witnessed this and had to work in this environment first hand for a number of years and it isn't anything new:   This was the case when I was a government sub contractor in the IT world and had to work with many of these consulting firms on federal security projects  requiring D.O.D. clearance due to the sensitive nature.  There were great people, and there were not so great people that I had to work with, both were either Federal personnel, and other subcontractors hired on to the projects by the winning firms.

    Needless to say, I learned a great deal about how our government functions in certain aspects, specifically in the IT world of the Fed.

    "It's only the giving, that makes what you are." - Ian Anderson

    by LamontCranston on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 12:29:00 PM PST

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