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.