Blue Cross plans weekend hours at NC call center

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, North Carolina’s largest health insurer, is planning to open its call center for Saturday hours to handle a crush of calls from thousands of new customers confused about policies they bought under the Affordable Care Act.

It’s the first time the insurer’s customer service call center in Durham will keep Saturday hours, said Blue Cross spokesman Lew Borman. The call center will be staffed with 60 representatives on Saturday to handle customer inquiries.

“We have a record volume of calls,” Borman said. “Despite the fact that we’ve increased support staff, our hold times are long.”

Thousands of people in North Carolina are eager to make sure their applications went through properly and that they have health insurance. One panicked query came from a Blue Cross customer calling from the doctor’s office.

Many of these callers have not yet received their insurance card and “welcome kit” through the mail. The need to verify enrollment gains urgency as the Jan. 10 deadline approaches to pay for health insurance effective in January.

Blue Cross can provide temporary enrollment verification by phone, Borman said.

Public confusion about the new law stems from delays and last-minute rule changes, and a crash-prone enrollment website that only recently began functioning. Insurance companies nationwide have complained that applications are lost, incomplete or filled with errors and need to be re-processed.

Blue Cross has brought in contractors to manually reconcile and process applications because of recurring issues with the federal enrollment website.

The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, requires most Americans to have health insurance in 2014 or face penalties. The new law provides federal subsidies to offset insurance costs for those who fall within certain income levels.

The majority already have health coverage through their employer or through federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid and don’t have to take steps to comply with the law.

The final deadline to enroll is March 31. Those who have health coverage effective this month enrolled by Dec. 24.

Borman said it’s not clear how many people in North Carolina have enrolled with Blue Cross by the Dec. 24 deadline because they have until Jan. 10 to make a payment and lock in their policy for January.

The Blue Cross call center normally operates Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The extended Saturday hours will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The phone number is 800-446-8053.

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