Last night, the Saint Louis Post Dispatch reported:
Members of Missouri’s congressional delegation are calling for probes of a report that a taxpayer-funded center in Wentzville, contracted to process applications for the new health-care law, is paying its workers to do virtually nothing.
The federal government, under the auspices of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, gave $1.2 billion to Serco Inc., a processing and security group, to process paper applications for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Allegations that employees were doing little or no work, first reported by KMOV (Channel 4), drew a flurry of responses from Missouri’s delegation on Wednesday.
The good news here is that the employees want to do work. It isn’t their fault. They were hired on the premise that they would need to process many paper applications. Instead, whistleblowers claim that they are unable to meet the goal of processing two applications per month. So add this $1.2 billion wasted to the other billions wasted on the healthcare exchanges.
Back in September, it was considered wonderful news in the region that Serco had won the contract and was hiring people for their center in Wentzville, a town not too far from Saint Louis.
From Monday until Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., they filed into the bright and glassy lobby of an office building here, to be greeted by older men with name tags standing by the door and ushered into a waiting area for an interview. Some came way early. Others right on time. But thousands showed up, hoping to land a position with Serco, a government contracting firm which on Nov. 1 will open a processing center up the road in Wentzville for health insurance applications under the Affordable Care Act, and which needs a lot of people to staff it.
So this past week, even as Washington rang with debate about defunding “Obamacare” — as the controversial health insurance program is often called — Serco threw one of the single-biggest job fairs that job-starved St. Louis has seen in too long. More than 3,400 people filed online applications, and 1,100 were invited to interview. Hundreds more came without an invitation and met with the company anyway. Serco and its subcontractors hired 790.
Well, the Tea Party lost that debate, so now people are paid $14- to $27-per-hour, with health benefits and a 401k contribution, to sit at their computer screens and wait. Thus:
Takatz, who lives in Wentzville, said she originally took the job to help people obtain health care.
“I feel guilty for working there as long as I did,” she said. “It was like I was stealing money from people.”
In the whole month of December, she said, she processed about six applications.
Workers became so bored and hostile, Takatz claims, that Serco began providing books to read. Employees were told they could not speak to the media, even if they left the company.
“It was prison,” Takatz said. “We all referred to it as our cell blocks.”
Serco is located, of course, in Reston, Virginia, where it is strategically placed to lobby for Federal contracts.
Serco’s parent company made the news back in July of 2013 for overbilling in Britain. Our own David Jolly made some comments about Serco getting the Obamacare contract that now seem prophetic.