Computer woes blamed for idle health care workers in Missouri

Thursday, June 12, 2014 | 1:20 p.m. CDT; updated 8:18 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 12, 2014

WENTZVILLE — The federal government agency that oversees applications for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act says the computer problems that plagued early sign-ups are to blame for problems at a suburban St. Louis processing center.

Media reports in mid-May quoted current and ex-employees of the Serco Inc. office in Wentzville saying work was so scarce that they sometimes played board games, read books or slept while on the clock.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Serco's workers "experienced the same tech issues that were widely reported last fall with" Agency spokesman Aaron Albright said those problems have since been largely resolved. He added that Serco is "working around the clock" now.

The British company with headquarters in northern Virginia could receive up to $1.25 billion to process applications through the new federal law. The Wentzville facility has 660 employees and is one of four where a total of 3,241 workers have been hired to process paper applications; the others are in Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Members of Missouri's congressional delegation say the computer problems raise questions about whether the government contract overestimated the amount of work required to process paper applications when the law kicked in.

Reports about application inconsistencies have been portrayed by some Democrats as among the anticipated challenges of providing health care to millions of applicants. Republicans say they represent another failure of the new health care law.

Albright said that at the end of May, about 1.2 million applicants had inconsistencies in the reported annual income amounts, 461,000 had citizenship inconsistencies and 505,000 had immigration inconsistencies.

CMS and Serco are now "resolving cases rapidly and anticipate adding capacity in order to verify most of the documentation provided by consumers from the 2014 applications by the end of this summer," the spokesman said.

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